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Become a virtual virtuoso

Delivering live online learning with impact

What are the key ingredients for delivering live online learning that engages your audience? Here are five essential steps...

How do you keep an audience engaged online?

We've all sat through boring meetings. And we've all experienced tedious training. Online environments sometimes amplify the effect of boredom. If people feel disengaged online, they can more easily stop concentrating and start working on something else. And it's much harder for an online facilitator to pick up on the social signals and body language they would normally see in a face-to-face setting.

So what does it take to deliver live online learning that keeps people engaged and interested? Acteon consultants have been using live online delivery as an element of blended learning programmes for many years. We have distilled this knowledge into five essential steps to help you become a virtual virtuoso...

5 Steps diagram

Step one: Prepare

What are your practical considerations?

To build a firm foundation for delivering live online training, it's essential to consider the practical issues, including acquiring the technical skills you need.

Know your platform

As an online presenter, a basic requirement is that you are fluent and comfortable in the platform you're using. Make sure you can quickly access the features you need as well as showing attendees how to use them.

It's essential that your audience can focus on the content rather than the technical issues. Spend time getting familiar with the platform and its features, making use of the platform's support information.

  • Are you proficient with managing participants (such as mute, unmute, troubleshooting audio problems)?
  • Can you clearly explain to participants how to use the features they need (e.g. mute/unmute, reactions, raise hand, chat window, etc)?
  • If you need more advanced features, such as sharing your screen, breakout rooms, interactive whiteboard, are you confident with them?

Here's a handy 'cheat sheet' with some key questions and a checklist.

Have a technical producer or host

Smooth virtual delivery involves two roles. First, there is the learning delivery itself, facilitating the session. Second, there are the logistical aspects of managing the session, such as trouble-shooting any technical issues, monitoring and responding to the chat box, prompting the presenter if participants 'raise hands' or ask a question in the chat box.

It's difficult for one person to do both of these roles effectively. If you are the facilitator, find a colleague who can act as producer to help you, and ensure they are trained to do this.


Set up rehearsals in advance with colleagues so that you can test out your session and the features you need.

Use two or three screens so you can have your reference materials open as well as the platform, and easily view the chat window.

Train your trainers

If you have others who will also be delivering the live online learning, ensure they are equipped with the skills they need. Arrange a separate 'train the trainers' session. You could consider bringing in an expert in online delivery to facilitate this for you.

For further excellent advice on all these issues and more, listen to this podcast by live online learning expert Jo Cook: https://directory.libsyn.com/episode/index/id/13920884

Step two: Engage

Is your audience ready to learn?

Make it as easy as possible for your participants to engage with the session. This means understanding and empathising with their experience, and removing barriers where possible.

A quick way to disengage your audience is to spend the first part of the session trying to sort out technical issues. Nobody wants to sit through 10 minutes of "Can you hear me?", "Can you find the mute button?"!

Some practical tips to reduce these issues:

  • Consider a separate 10-minute intro session on the same platform, ideally the day before, with groups of 2-3 of the participants. Use this to check they are comfortable with the features they need, they're not having technical problems, and to answer any practical concerns.
  • Make sure it's easy for participants to join - send the link and joining information in a calendar invitation along with anything else they need, all in one place.
  • Teach the tools you need participants to use as you go, right before they need to use them. Rather than having a whole section showing features at the beginning, demonstrate them as you come to use each one. Explain, demo, ask participants to try it, then go into the activity.
  • It may be helpful to have some ground rules during the session:
ground rules

Step three: Design

What makes impactful virtual classroom experiences?

Attention spans online are short, so you need to design sessions which give attendees reasons to stay interested and motivated. You want enthusiasm from your audience! How do you do this?

Focus on learning objectives that matter

Keep your session streamlined and focused on learning objectives. If these objectives have been designed for face-to-face session, review and reduce them to concentrate only on the most critical.

Understand your audience, so you can pitch the learning objectives appropriately. What do they already know, and what do they need to get from the session? You may want to send a quick survey to participants in advance, to help you check you are on the right track.

What's the difference between a 'live virtual classroom' and other forms of online learning?

Virtual classroom/instructor-led training: Small sessions (fewer than 20 attendees) with interactivity and participation. Similar to a face-to-face workshop.

Webinar: For larger audiences, typically a one-way presentation perhaps with facilitated Q&A. Can be recorded and accessed later. More like a conference presentation.

E-learning: Self-paced, self-study solutions delivered digitally. Resources don't rely on live delivery by a facilitator.

This is also a good time to reflect on whether a virtual classroom is the best fit for what you're trying to achieve.

Borrow but don't import from face-to-face

If you're moving from face-to-face delivery, don't attempt to move your existing course into a virtual environment wholesale. Face-to-face session plans can be a good starting point for ideas, but the content will need adapting to be successful online.

Sessions almost certainly needs to be shorter, or split into more than one event.

How many people, and how long?

If you're aiming for interactive 'virtual classroom' learning, 10-15 people is ideal. If numbers creep above 20 then you're into webinar territory, which is more one-way presentational style.

For a virtual classroom, the session length is ideally 90 minutes to two hours. For a two-hour session, include a comfort break half way through.

Keep it moving, keep it interactive

To maintain interest, the session needs to be varied in pace, with frequent interactivity. Use a blend of types of activity, combining short amounts of facilitator-led input with participant involvement.

Step four: Improve

How do you raise your game online?

Once you're comfortable and competent with the basics of session design and delivery, it's time to start upskilling. Get creative and enhance your capability to provide really outstanding live online learning, beyond the immediate quick-response shift to a new medium.

Using interactivity really well

Possibilities for interactivity are endless… you are only limited by your imagination! However, it takes experience to understand and judge what types of activity work well to fit what you're trying to achieve.

You don't necessarily need to use the most sophisticated tools. Sometimes the best presenters are just outstanding at using the basics. But by testing different ideas and approaches, you'll gain new insights, so get creative and try things out.


Reading the room

The concept of 'digital body language' has been growing in use, as a way to explore how we can read the behaviour of people online.

This is discussed by Jo Cook, expert in live online learning. She explains:

"In a face-to-face setting you can tell if attendees are engaged by looking round the room at their faces and body language. Good facilitators are used to adapting to the room. But if you can't 'see' people in the same way, how do you do this online?

"It isn't easy at first, it takes a bit of getting used to. But if you make sure you engage often with attendees through the features available to you on the platform, gradually you'll start to notice how people are responding. This gets easier with practice - particularly as you become more competent and relaxed with the logistics of delivering online. Digital body language will start to become clearer to you, and you'll be able to respond and adapt.

Step five: Impact

How do you make it matter?

For meaningful impact, our aim is to achieve long-lasting behaviour change. How do you achieve this through live online learning?

Campaign for change

Real change rarely occurs through a one-off training session. So to achieve meaningful outcomes, live online learning will be used as one element of a wider campaign for change.

A campaign is a set of interlocking, coordinated activities using potentially different media and different channels to achieve a shared objective.

The virtual classroom can be a particularly impactful element, giving the face-to-face contact and an opportunity for two-way communication with the audience.

Think about the timing of live online learning sessions - when and how will you use them most effectively as part of a campaign?

Knowledge sharing

Using an asset library with other elements of the campaign alongside the virtual classroom is a great way to hook activities together. It gives an audience a chance to ask questions and check they have understood campaign elements.

The virtual classroom environment also gives you a chance to gain valuable input from your participants, who can share their experiences and knowledge as part of the organisational learning process.

Measuring impact

We have developed these features within our LMS, Breeio - talk to the team to find out how they could help you.

Reporting and measuring are important for demonstrating the effectiveness of using a virtual classroom.

Identifying approaches and tools to do this will help you save time and frustration. For example, providing access to virtual learning sessions from within your LMS can enable a smoother management of the process, along with ability to track and analyse learner attendance.

Keep an eye on these metrics, and adjust your campaign elements as needed.

Summary: Bringing it together

So what does it really take to deliver live online learning that keeps people engaged, motivated? And is it possible to use virtual sessions to create long-term behaviour change?

Using the five steps outlined here will help you achieve the impact you're aiming for:

  • Prepare - know your platform, acquire the technical skills you need, work with a producer and train your trainers. Then practice, practice, practice until you're comfortable!
  • Engage - empathise with your audience. Use our practical tips to ensure participants are ready and prepared to engage without being distracted by logistics.
  • Design - focus on what matters, adapting and rethinking for an online environment. Create impactful, short sessions with plenty of interactivity.
  • Improve - upskill and raise your game with creative interactivity, and by learning to 'read the room' through digital body language.
  • Impact - make the virtual classroom part of a wider campaign to achieve meaningful behaviour change, with tools to measure and understand the effectiveness.
5 Steps diagram

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