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5 Critical Steps to Creating a Successful Virtual Classroom Experience

March 18, 2020

Verity Creedy


The key to ensuring remote employee training and development will be effective is creating a successful virtual classroom experience.

man working with a headset on, creating a successful virtual classroom experience

The COVID-19 outbreak has forced many organizations’ workforces out of the workplace. But even with offices emptied and employees hunkered down at home, for many, the work must go on. And when it comes to keeping up with training and development, the key is ensuring a successful virtual classroom experience.

Kyle Gendreau, the CEO of Samsonite, expressed that "the work must go on" in a recent interview: “We are hyper-focused on the health and safety of our employees and doing all the right things. But we will come out on the other side of this. I take a lot of personal pride in putting the message out that we’re continuing to stay focused on our long-term aspirations and goals.”

Gendreau’s quote indicates two important areas for L&D focus:

  • First, it’s important to balance the short term with the long term. Don’t just cancel or put everything on hold because it will not help achieve strategic aspirations. Once this crisis has passed, companies won’t have the luxury of slowly ramping back up. And they’ll need leadership capability in place to pivot back to business as usual without skipping a beat.
  • And second, leaders still must lead. Especially now. As they live through a real-time case history in crisis management, leaders need to be at the top of their games. And for those who suddenly find themselves leading virtual teams for the first time, they may need new skill they haven’t had to rely on before.

Technology has become the savior to keep the learning flowing in the midst of a crisis that has forced many companies to suspend classroom and in-person training. And many are using the best technology-enabled substitute for classroom training: virtual classroom training. This is a good thing as DDI research has shown that virtual classroom training can be just as effective at changing behavior as in-person classroom training. That’s a comforting thought given that in-person training isn’t an option right now.

But those “just as good” results aren’t automatic just because you uploaded slides into your chosen technology platform. Not all virtual classroom solutions are created equal. What’s more, creating a successful virtual classroom experience depends upon multiple factors.

To be by your side, we would like to share what we’ve learned during more than a decade of helping our clients deliver a successful virtual classroom experience. This includes the pitfalls we have encountered and the best ways to avoid them.

What to watch out for

To use virtual classroom training to develop the skills your leaders most need now, watch out for the following:

1. Suitability

Virtual classroom is a wonderful way to deliver training. But it’s not always the right solution. For example, if the purpose of the training is to provide a large amount of complex information, providing this information in written form might be a better way to go.

It all comes down to what you are trying to accomplish. Therefore, before you move forward with a virtual classroom, you should ask yourself these questions:

  • Do we have a good reason for using virtual classroom?
  • Is interactivity involved, or could it be covered by an email or short document?
  • What are the outcomes we are looking to achieve?

If, and only if, you can clearly answer these questions, will you be able to take the first step toward ensuring a successful virtual classroom experience.

2. Interactivity

The best thing about the virtual classroom is how it allows participants—regardless of their physical locations—to interact with one another. Given advances in technology, most virtual meeting platforms now have voice and video conferencing capabilities, as well as real-time chat. DDI’s virtual classroom solution also includes on-screen annotation tools, polling questions, and virtual breakout rooms that accommodate small group discussion, brainstorming, and skill practice.

While this functionality is robust, you probably want to do a reality check to determine if this level of interactivity is a necessity for your learning design. If you don’t need so much digital interactivity, then pause and ask yourself if you might be better off just preparing a webinar.

3. Variety

While a virtual classroom delivery can be immersive (see the point above), don’t assume it’s sufficient as a standalone modality. Remember, a virtual classroom is a substitute for a physical classroom; but it doesn’t take the place of all the elements that define good training design. Pre-work, self-assessments, course journals, job aids, follow-up activities, and other materials can increase the course’s impact. What the right mix will be for any course goes back to the course’s purpose and objectives.

4. Minimal technical glitches

While the content and delivery design will go a long way toward determining a successful virtual classroom experience, the technology matters a great deal, too. That means the capability of the virtual classroom platform you are using. But it also means the ability to properly use the technology and to avoid preventable technical mishaps.

The best way to avoid this? Based on our experience, we suggest having a producer for every course who can drive the platform and support learners with any technical concerns. Doing this frees up the facilitator to focus on the transfer of learning.

5. A skilled facilitator

As mentioned above, a course delivered via virtual classroom can be just as effective as one in a physical classroom. But while the learning can be the same for participants, a virtual classroom course represents a different experience for facilitators. That’s because it presents a different set of challenges. The technology is part of it, but just as important is the absence of real-time feedback. The body language and facial cues that help a facilitator track the level of participant engagement and understanding are either harder to detect or, if video isn’t being used, absent entirely.

Every good facilitator understands the importance of practice. But when delivering a class via virtual classroom, practice is even more important to ensure an impactful delivery and make the most of the various features of the virtual classroom platform. That’s why we recommend that facilitators practice beforehand and ask for regular feedback (How is my pace? What can I clarify? Can you all see the slides?).

Results are grounded in planning

I hope these five areas of focus for creating a successful virtual classroom experience have not intimidated you. It is entirely possible to be effective in executing virtual classroom sessions, but the more planning you put in place, the better behavior change returns you will receive.

DDI has delivered thousands of virtual classroom sessions to many global organizations and we regularly get encouraging feedback:

  • “While e-learning is common in [our organization], I can tell you that the virtual classroom approach that we applied was viewed as especially exciting and interesting,” she said. “It was really a great evolution of the traditional e-learning.” –HR Leader, Global Organization
  • “I have been leading virtually for the last 11 years, so thought I had little to learn in this front. However, DDI’s program made me aware of some issues that I was not paying close enough attention to. As one example, I learned that it is not enough to simply trust your virtually-led colleagues; I have to make the effort to demonstrate and show them that I trust them.” –First-level manager, Software Company

These are uncertain times, but that doesn’t mean they can’t bring excitement and positive evolution. Enable your organization to drive their long-term strategies by having ready-now leaders with the most critical skills. That is what is needed. And, I invite you to remove any barriers to how this is executed by exploring the virtual classroom option.

I wish you lots of luck and if you need help creating a successful virtual classroom experience, get in touch. We are proud to be By Your Side.

Explore DDI’s Virtual Classroom solution and see a list of courses available for virtual delivery.  

Verity Creedy is a Director in DDI’s Product Management team. Usually living in London, Verity is currently based in our U.S. Headquarters. When she’s not identifying future frontline leader product needs, Verity can be found sweating in spin classes, eating various types of sweet pastries, and telling people about her adoration for Taylor Swift. If you have any frontline leader product ideas, pastry favorites, or Swifty news, send them to

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