The title of this article is based on an old trope, but even an old rock and roll song applies to the effects of technology change today. The conversation about which is better, virtual classrooms versus live classrooms, changed—stopped forever—when the pandemic and working from home made virtual the only option for classrooms, but that does not mean that virtual instruction had to remain a passive experience.

Talking heads are not the only option for the virtual classroom, and they never should have been an option at all. Webinars in the classic one-way, non-participative sense, are simply not valid instruction, let alone “emergency remote teaching” or “crisis learning” or even effective use of technology. They are, on the whole, not even “good instruction.”

Does that seem harsh? Learning happens when people wrestle actively with experience and in collaboration. The Learning Guild’s August 2020 research, Evidence-Based Ideas for Virtual Classroom Experiences, (link at the end of this article) examines the best practices for putting that assertion to work. Designers, instructors, facilitators, and especially learners must reframe live online delivery and engagement for effective learning.

We have known since the 1940’s—going on 80 years—that the delivery modality (texts, lecture, video, experiential) matters less to the outcome of instruction than the strategies of instruction. As The Guild’s research report shows, “sound instructional strategies coupled with effective facilitation help to provide an optimal virtual classroom learning experience.”

As I asserted in my article published August 20, 2020, the key to engagement and optimal learning experience in the virtual classroom is to involve the learner’s whole person. As the presenter, your job is not to broadcast content. It is to facilitate learning so that persons in the session are active, not passive, participants. Participants must be engaged:

  • Emotionally
  • Intellectually
  • Collaboratively
  • Socially

The more comfortable participants are in the virtual environment and the better they are supported, the more they will be engaged. The Learning Guild’s latest research report guides you to the methods of instruction that deliver engagement in all of those forms in the virtual environment.

Underpinnings and methods

The underpinnings of online learning experience consist of social presence and instructor presence, connecting facilitators and learners. In addition, as the research report makes clear, learning and thinking are not matters of knowledge storage and retrieval but happen “in the moment” and are interdependent with context, people, and culture. Performance, which is the desired outcome of learning, relies on the ability to apply knowledge in multiple contexts and situations.

Instructional methods must be chosen that support learning, particularly evidence-based approaches. Based on Will Thalheimer’s work, the research report summarizes methods around three strategies: realistic practice, spaced repetition of key learning points, and feedback.

Making the move

The research report provides plenty of guidance and support for moving your existing classroom or face-to-face designs to virtual classroom designs. Beginning with documentation of what you are doing in the classroom setting and the key learning points, the author (Jane Bozarth) looks at development of supporting materials and documentation, activities, and interaction.

Facilitator preparation is another key aspect that determines success. This is not only a matter of facilitator training and rehearsal, but also of piloting and development of digital fluency.

Other details included in the report are scope (how many participants in a group and how long is the session), scheduling, and whether to record sessions for later viewing. Selection of the right delivery tools (including whether the time is needed for new facilitators to master them) round out the major parts of the report.

The report also includes links to online resources (Learning Solutions articles), reading, and a rubric that will help you assess the level of interaction in your online course.

Download the report

Download the full research report, Evidence-Based Ideas for Virtual Classroom Experiences, now to learn more about instructional methods for supporting workplace learning and practical strategies for enhancing your virtual classroom experiences.

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