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When Everything Is Suddenly Virtual

The last few weeks have been pretty tough on everyone. The new “normal” is quite different, and we have no idea what “normal” will look like when things “return back to normal”. So what have we been up to?

I love working with my colleagues at Actineo because we pride ourselves on doing a job right. For example, the reason we use Training from the BACK of the Room! to design and deliver our courses is the science that backs it up. We don't deliver training through intuition or the notion of “it's just the way it has always been done”. We look at Cognitive Science and what that tells us. We learn other ways of doing things and then apply them to our context.

In these times of lockdown, the easiest thing would have been to just change our courses to virtual delivery and create a 2-day Zoom-Fest with <insert online whiteboard tool du jour here>. We decided that this would be a disservice to our attendees, our community and ourselves. We decided to take a different approach.

Doing it differently

We took a step back to learn the answer to the question, “What is the best way to deliver live virtual training?” To find an answer, we attended courses by experienced providers of live virtual courses, engaged with trainer communities, looked at the available research.

We came to the conclusion that a 2-day Zoom-Fest is not the way forward.

Instead, we will redesign our 2-day in-person courses, wherever our license allow us to. We will offer 4 sessions of approximately 2.5 hours in length including breaks. These sessions will spread over 5 days (Monday-Friday) with a rest day in between (Wednesday). As we learn more, we may change this.

(See the July 2021 update below)

Why are we doing this? Read on, if you are curious.

Shorter Trumps Longer Is More Important than Ever Online.

Some things translate straight from the TBR playbook – the importance of the 4Cs and also the Six Trumps. Shorter Trumps Longer becomes even more important.

There is significant disagreement in the academic community about what the ideal length of an online session is. What I have seen though is that the model of in-person training doesn't translate to Live Virtual Classrooms (LVC)… or rather what the research typically refers to as Online Synchronous Teaching. We have to ask ourselves where the model of 8 hours in a training room comes from. At this moment, I don't have a good answer, but my current suspicion is that it is down to several factors. Not least, some of the following:

  • Venue Hire is often only available by the day or half-day.
  • Employers prefer to allow people out of the office for a fixed time period. It simplifies things.
  • Trainers find it easier to book out a contiguous block of time.
  • Logistically it is easier for attendees to find a short window to be out of office than many windows spread over a lot of days.
  • If the attendees are coming from out of town, minimising the travel and time away from home matters.

The above currently falls firmly in the space of intuition, so please take with a pinch of salt. That being said, our world has changed in ways we can't possibly know right now, so we feel that it is time to think about a different tomorrow. If that tomorrow involves a lot of Live Virtual Classes, then we have a duty as trainers to understand what that means for our learners.

So What Does the Science Say?

By and large, academics suggest that Synchronous Online sessions should be no more than 2 hours. The range indicates that it is something more than 30 minutes but less than 2 hours. Industry experts also agree with this. For example, author Cindy Huggett states that 8 hours of in-person training is not equal to 8 hours of synchronous online class. Cindy also says that most live online sessions are 60 to 90 minutes long.

For now, we will offer 4 sessions of approximately 2.5 hours in length including breaks. We will spread these out over 5 days (Monday-Friday) with a rest day in between (Wednesday). We may change this as we learn more.

Update July 2021

Since the publication of this article, we have experimented with various formats. As of today, the pattern of our classes has evolved. The main difference is that we now avoid sessions on consecutive days. Classes that we used to run in Monday, Tuesday, Thursday and Friday sessions are now run over two weeks. For example, Monday, Thursday, Monday and Thursday. The reason for this change is that having days between sessions allows us to introduce spaced practice. During these non-class days, our participants can continue their learning by reading articles, watching videos, doing practical activities, etc. This format produces much better learning outcomes and retention for our participants.

What Else Have We Been Doing?

In homage to Sharon Bowman‘s 6 Trumps, we've come up with a set of “yes and” trumps for the virtual environment. We are applying these to our courses too.

6 Trumps for Live Virtual Classes

The Trumps for Live Virtual Classes are:

  • Small trumps large
    We will keep class sizes to 12 attendees or fewer.
  • Preparation trumps improvisation
    We will always make sure that we have a plan B, C, D, etc.
    We will introduce the attendees to the online class environment before the class starts.
  • Simple trumps complicated
    We will always do the simplest possible thing with the simplest possible tools to meet the learning objective.
  • Adaptation trumps replication
    We will adapt our training to the strengths of an online class environment.
    We won't fight against the limitations of the online space and replicate an in-person classroom.
  • Pairing trumps solo
    We will always have someone in charge of production and technology in our online courses so that our trainers can focus on delivering the best training experience.
  • Off-air trumps lecture
    We will create off-air homework/intersession work which will facilitate deeper learning and avoid the need for long lectures.

We see these trumps as a contract between us and our learners. They are a set of powerful constraints which we believe will help us deliver compelling, engaging and effective learning.

What Next?

We are doing further research into these trumps as we speak. We will publish follow up posts with some of the science, industry practice and thinking behind these as we find more. Keeping things empirical, we may also change them if what we find is that a trump was based on a bias or intuition, but the science doesn't stack up.

Thanks to José Casal for his help in putting this post together.

Further Reading


Acosta-Tello, E. (2019). Enhancing the online class: Effective use of synchronous interactive online instruction. Journal of Instructional Pedagogies, 17(November). Retrieved from https://files.eric.ed.gov/fulltext/EJ1102879.pdf

Bowman, S. (2009). Training from the BACK of the Room!

Bowman, S. (2011). Using Brain Science To Make Training Stick.

Huggett, C. (2018, February). Convert Your Classroom Training to Virtual Training. Retrieved from https://www.td.org/magazines/td-magazine/convert-your-classroom-training-to-virtual-training

Huggett, C. (2019, March 6). Virtual Training Survey Reveals 2019 Trends, Surprises. Retrieved from https://learningsolutionsmag.com/articles/virtual-training-survey-reveals-2019-trends-surprises

Johnson, J. (2016, September 16). Best Practices for Synchronous Online Discussions. Retrieved from http://higherelearning.com/best-practices-for-synchronous-online-discussions 

Martin, F. & Parker, M.A. (2014). Use of Synchronous Virtual Classrooms: Why, Who, and How? MERLOT Journal of Online Learning and Teaching, 10(2). Retrieved from https://jolt.merlot.org/vol10no2/martin_0614.pdf 

Scharf, Mark T. (2015). Comparing Student Cumulative Course Grades, Attrition, and Satisfaction in Traditional and Virtual Classroom Environments. Doctoral Dissertation Submitted to Northcentral University Retrieved from https://pqdtopen.proquest.com/doc/1713690470.html?FMT=AI.

Yates, J. (2014). Synchronous online CPD: empirical support for the value of webinars in career settings. British Journal of Guidance and Counselling, 42(3). Retrieved from https://repository.uel.ac.uk/download/bbe74bd5f9dee0287087ff9ca668d48459e1fbd7e8f64665c11249dfb6a102fb/389418/Synchronous%20online%20training%20CPD%20for%20careers%20service%20staff%20accepted%20manuscript.pdf 

Credit: Photo by Markus Spiske on Unsplash

3 thoughts on “When Everything Is Suddenly Virtual”

  1. Pingback: 4 Differences Between the Virtual and the In-person TBR Classes - Actineo Consulting LLP

  2. Pingback: Small Trumps Large When Training Online - Actineo Consulting LLP

  3. Pingback: Is Live Virtual Training Helping Learners? - Actineo Consulting LLP

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