Holly Macdonald
Written by:

Holly Macdonald

Date:

March 26, 2021

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Virtual learning sessions using a platform like Zoom, WebEx, or Adobe Connect, have become commonplace. They are often the first step organizations take to provide online learning. And it is easy to set-up a virtual classroom to start your online training. But how many Zoom sessions have we all been in that are deathly boring? We’ve all been there. Most of the time it’s due to a well-intentioned instructor not being well trained in online instructional techniques. Yet, knowing a few tricks about virtual learning activities can change all that. Knowing what activities to use when, and where, can boost the virtual learning experience. And improve your training outcomes. Learn how you can make your online classroom ratings soar.

What Is Virtual Learning?

Virtual learning is a training experience delivered through an electronic medium. Often online and accessed via a phone, tablet, or laptop. It can be self-paced (asynchronous) or as live online teaching (synchronous).

Examples of virtual learning include

  • Elearning courses
  • Email ‘drip’ courses
  • Webinars
  • Video’s
  • Simulations

Below we are going to concentrate on synchronous virtual learning. That is live learning via a virtual classroom using a platform like Zoom, WebEx, or Adobe Connect.

Benefits Of Virtual Learning

There are many benefits of virtual learning. These include

  • Greater flexibility and convenience for the learner
  • Reaching a geographically disbursed audience in a short space of time
  • Low costs of delivery
  • Cost savings for the learner
  • Improved results over traditional training
  • Access to the latest, up to date, content
  • Quicker completion of courses
  • Standardized consistent content and information
  • Improved retention over traditional learning
  • Offering a personalized experience
  • Improved productivity
  • Improved data tracking
  • Localized content

“An IBM study reported that for every $1 a company invests in the benefits of eLearning, it gains $30 worth of productivity”

The Quality Of Your Virtual Learning

With the recent urgent rush to online learning, there has been a huge increase in virtual learning classroom courses. But has this led to creating a quality learning experience? In some cases it has. But most people aren’t experts in instructional design. And some that are, don’t have a lot of experience with creating virtual learning. So there have been many cases where the learning experience has been less than optimal. Some would say deathly boring.

Fortunately, with a few proven tips, you can add virtual learning activities to your training design. These will greatly enhance the virtual learning experience. For every hour of online instruction, aim for 4 – 6 activities to break up the pace. It’s best to minimize lecturing or presenting slides in the session. And use the virtual learning classroom as a time to apply, get feedback, and practice. Rather than passively listen. 

Below we breakdown virtual learning activities. Starting with simple, through to more advanced activities. Use them and watch your lesson ratings start to soar. 

Simple Virtual Learning Activities You Can Adopt

These virtual learning activities are easy to set-up, simple to operate, and commonly used. Many participants will have had some exposure to them. Novice instructors can start with these.

Screen Sharing

Screen sharing is a virtual learning activity that is best used for 

  • DemonstrationsAdobe connect screen share image
  • Tours
  • Presentations
  • Videos 
  • How-to lessons

For example, to show how to use a software application. Or to highlight a feature in the software. Allowing the audience to see what you are doing on your screen.

Tips for screen sharing in your virtual learning

  • Screen sharing however can be a “bandwidth hog”. So, close all other open applications and any browser tabs that you can. 
  • Keep your presenting to a minimum. And if a participant is presenting, make sure they know how to find the share feature button
  • When screen sharing you can “screen” everything visible. Or only screen share a specific application. Be careful you don’t share your screen and then forget. Otherwise, when you go to open something else, you might end up oversharing! 

Status Indicators

Status indicators are great for providing quick visual feedback. They can help you gauge the pace of the learning and keep the conversation flowing. And make sure the learners are paying attention!

For example, one of the most effective virtual learning status indicators is the “raise hand” indicator. This can be used when you have a group conversation and want to give everyone a chance to speak in turn.

Tips for using status indicators in your virtual learning

  • A good practice when using the raise hand feature is to acknowledge the speaking order: “I see Ben has his hand up, so we’ll hear from Ben, then Harjit”. This communicates to the participants that you are acknowledging their request to speak. And so, they know when it’s their turn which helps prevent them from interrupting. Also, as they know when it’s their turn this prevents lengthy silences between questions.
  • Don’t forget to remind participants to put their hand down when they’ve finished.

Public Chat

Public chat is often best used for

  • Providing input on what has been presented
  • Allowing the audience to submit questions in real-time
  • Providing feedback to the audience when someone else is presenting
  • Collecting information from many people simultaneously
  • Lightning rounds which are a way to provide very short and top of mind feedback 
  • Knowledge checks which are a way to quickly assess an audience’s comprehension of the topic. For example, the instructor can present options on the screen. The audience is then asked to enter the corresponding number for the correct answer
  • Confirming people are paying attention

Tips for using public chat in your virtual learning

  • It’s best to leave the chat tool on because it provides an open channel for the audience to take part. This helps increase their engagement in the learning
  • Be specific with how you want people to use the chat so they don’t get distracted
  • When you are no longer directing activities in the chat channel, you can leave the chat open. But work with a producer to manage the chat channel and questions that might come in

Audio/Video Conversations

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Audio and/or video are often best used as virtual learning activities for 

  • Group discussions
  • Playing games, for example as an icebreaker
  • Receiving and giving feedback
  • Role-playing scenarios (but only if group trust is high)
  • “Giving the floor” to someone else who has something important to contribute

Tips for using conversations in your virtual learning

  • In a smaller group, ask participants to keep the video feed on and mute themselves. This allows for ongoing non-verbal communication and connection. Providing the audience the ability to switch both audio and video on/off is recommended.
  • It is important that you don’t let a conversation be dominated by the loudest person in a virtual learning class. One trick is to set norms at the beginning of the session.  And if that fails then you can always mute them 😁
  • Also, its important to be mindful of group trust and inter-cultural communication. For example, if someone doesn’t have English as a first language give them the option to type in the chat, in addition to speaking to ask a question or provide a comment.Webex virtual learning screen with translation

Intermediate Virtual Learning Activities You Can Adopt

These activities are a little more involved. They should be used by instructors who have some practice in virtual learning classes. Having a producer can help with the logistics. But instructors should still rehearse to make the session go smoothly.

Polls

Polls are a very effective and interactive virtual learning activity to use. They are often best used for

  • Ice-breakers at the beginning of a session
  • Informal quizzesvirtual learning poll on adobe connect
  • Quick knowledge checks to understand the groups understanding of topics
  • Feedback on their experience with the session, or future goals after the session
  • Fun games to change up the tempo of what you are teaching

Tips for using polls in your virtual learning

  • Use these near the beginning of your session to help “warm-up” the participants
  • Keep the options limited to 4 or less if possible. 
  • A good rule of thumb is no more than 2 polls in an hour-long session.

Games/Quizzes

Games and quizzes are good virtual learning activities to increase interactivity in the session. Games and quizzes are often good to use for

  • Icebreakers at the beginning of a session
  • Lightening the mood of an intense topic by playing a drawing or guessing game
  • Increasing the level of interactivity in the session
  • Role-playing, scenarios, problem-solving activities, and practicing skills

An example could be using an escape room game or playing a classic game such as Pictionary.

Tips for using games and quizzes in your virtual learning

  • Try a variety of activities such as drawing games, scavenger hunts, story games, or improv games
  • Keep them simple
  • Keep them short, typically less than 10 minutes

There are several external tools that you can use to add interactive and fun activities to the virtual learning session, includingImage of Kahoot virtual learning games

File Sharing

File sharing is important for many virtual learning activities. For example, if you are teaching a class on how to redesign something or asking people to complete a case study. File-sharing can be used for 

  • Completing or reviewing assignments
  • In class applied learning. Such as providing feedback or analysis on the material provided
  • Completing a task independently
  • “Student” presentations

Tips for using file-sharing in your virtual learning

  • For a group that meets regularly having time to think during the session can be a good thing. Not all virtual classes have to involve the instructor all the time.
  • Be careful about copyright. Don’t distribute documents that you don’t have permission to distribute. 

Advanced Virtual Learning Activities You Can Adopt

These advanced activities should be used by experienced virtual class instructors. And they may need some prior set-up and/or have in-session requirements.

Using A Whiteboard

There are many great activities you can do to enhance the virtual learning experience by using an electronic whiteboard. These are excellent for

  • Brainstorming sessionsMiro webpage whiteboard for virtual team collaboration
  • Using as a virtual flipchart
  • Showing how to fill out a section of a document
  • Helping to sort items into categories

Tips for using a whiteboard in your virtual learning

  • You can often use the built-in tool in your virtual classroom. Or you can use Google Slides or PowerPoint slides to take notes and share your screen during your session
  • Another option is to use an external tool like Miro or MURAL. Both allow you to create pre-prepared boards to guide a conversation.
  • You use it either as an “instructor” only tool or as a group tool where anyone can contribute. If using the group option, ensure that you know how to use, save, and clear any annotations.

Annotation

Annotation uses a similar toolset to a whiteboard. It is overlayed on what you are displaying. For example, in an anatomy class, you could ask participants to label parts of the body.

Annotations can best be used for 

  • Group analysis
  • Icebreakers
  • Group documentation

Tips for using annotation in your virtual learning

  • You can provide some specific guidance to participants by using the arrow tool. Or by typing in your comment.
  • Make sure to clear the annotations, as they will appear on anything you are projecting. 
  • You’ll also want to turn off the tool when you aren’t using it to prevent participants from distracting the class by playing with it.
  • If this requires using slides, pages, or images these need to be prepared in advance. 
  • Since the tools are similar to white-boarding, if the group and/or instructor is familiar with that then this is an easy extension of that activity.

Breakout Rooms

Break-out rooms are an excellent way for you to enhance your virtual learning and provide extra interactivity as well. There are many uses for them including

  • For small group discussions
  • Reviewing case studies
  • Splitting people into role-specific subgroups
  • To practice and prepare debates, competitions, presentations, demonstrations
  • Pair-and-share activities to elaborate on larger topics or complete a debrief on a topic
  • Practice role-playing scenarios
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Tips for using breakout rooms in your virtual learning

  • Have clear written instructions for the group and appoint a “spokesperson” to lead each group.
  • As it can be intimidating for groups to use, especially at first, make sure that the work is very impactful. Or fun or compelling. 
  • Don’t overdo their use, and typically use them if your group is more than 10-12 in total. If it’s less than that, opt for a group discussion instead.
  • As a host, you can go to any session you want.

Summary – How To Use Proven Virtual Learning Activities To Boost Your Training

With these tips on virtual learning activities, your virtual classroom sessions are going to be a big hit. No more worrying whether the audience thought it was another boring Zoom session. Stand back and watch your feedback ratings soar.