The Virtual Trainer: From the classroom to the virtual world

Guest Author Amy Lyons 2014 MATD graduate and currently Corporate Training Specialist at Wonderlic, Inc.

Guest Author Amy Lyons 2014 MATD graduate and currently Corporate Training Specialist at Wonderlic, Inc.

At a recent networking event, I introduced myself to another student as a Virtual Instructor. “Now that’s what I want to do,” she smiled “train from home!” The biggest misconception about Virtual Instructor Led Training (VILT) is that we simply take classroom materials and put them in the online classroom.

Think back to the last time Hollywood turned a TV series into a movie. You didn’t show up at the theater and watch 120 minutes of TV episodes, did you? The creative people behind the scenes understand that movies and television are two very different delivery systems. So why do we, as trainers, take materials from a live classroom and try to push it out to a virtual classroom?

Below I’ve listed some best practices for Virtual Instructor Led Training. Try incorporating some of these into your next session.

  • ID still rules. Big blocks of text, overly complicated graphics and an abundance of images fly in the face of Cognitive Load Theory and can send your learner into sensory overload. Create a solid and consistent design that enhances the learning experience. Be creative, but not at the expense of the content.
  • Practice makes perfect. Many people underestimate the skill it takes to conduct training while clicking buttons, reading the screen and making sure everything is running smoothly. There was likely a learning curve when you began speaking in front of groups, expect the same virtually.
  • Know your tools. Many of the platforms today are filled with options to create interactivity. Options such as annotation tools, polls, breakout rooms and white boards can enhance each stage of Gagne’s Nine Events of Instruction. Reimagine live activities with your new tools. In a 2010 survey, VILT instructors who rated their programs very effective used more engagement tools during and after training than those rating their programs as slightly or less than effective. Used properly, they can be really effective.
  • Realize that your competition is steep and keep it moving. As I’m writing this, I have 8 programs open on my tool bar, not including the 7 unique windows open in my browser. In a live classroom, most learners won’t be rude enough to pull out their phone or computer and start doing something different (you hope). But the social stigma attached to those actions doesn’t occur in the virtual world. If you’re not keeping their attention, something else probably is.
  • Continue Learning. Our industry is filled with incredibly creative people willing to share their experiences and best practices. The folks at Mondo Learning have a great blog ( covering a variety of VILT topics. For great articles and a host of amazing resources, check out the website for Cindy Huggett ( I use a couple of her checklists all the time.

What techniques have you seen used effectively in VILT? What missed the mark? Do you have your own best practices to add to the list?

General Physics Corporation and TrainingIndustry, Inc. (2010). Survey results: Delivering virtual instructor-led training (VILT). Retrieved from


  • Hi Amy:

    These are wonderful tips and resources. Thank you for sharing your expertise. I think using small groups or break out rooms can make virtual training more engaging. Have you used small groups? If so, any best practices to share?


    • Thank you, Kathy. I agree that small groups are a fantastic way to make a virtual session more engaging. The option to use a breakout room is available in many platforms and I think if it is used well, it increases the likelihood of learning transfer.

      I don’t have any particular tips, but I was able to find a great blog post on the topic. I really like the suggestion of the author to have a colleague read the directions for clarity. Sometimes a second pair of eyes can make all the difference.


  • Good article, Amy. Thanks so much for sharing the survey.

  • Hi Amy,

    Great job! I was very excited to see you wrote this blog! You have provided so much great input during the classes we shared together. Your point about being aware of your competition is a great challenge. Can you share some of the things you do when leading a session virtually to capture and sustain the learners attention?

    • Hi Kimberly,

      As always, you are so kind. The pleasure of working together has been all mine!

      To me, engagement in sessions is all about getting dialogue started early and often. For smaller sessions, I leave all the phone lines open and ask lots of questions and expect lots of answers. If that’s not possible, I make use of the chat box with many open ended questions, then I make sure to respond as much as possible.

      I see too often that people expect to log into a training session and then just “zone-out” until it is over. Sometimes that is hard to overcome, but you have to set the expectation early and keep reinforcing it throughout your time together.

      Next time you find yourself in a position to conduct training virtually, do a quick Google search for ideas. There are so many terrific resources out there. Keep trying new ideas until you find what works for you and your learners.


  • Amy,
    Great article!!! It is so hard to make sure people are engaged when conducting a virtual classroom. It makes the job of the instructor that much more difficult.

  • Hi Amy!
    Great article. Thank you for sharing your insight. It isn’t an easy task getting students to engage in an online class. It seems much more time consuming and harder than actually conducting a live class.


    • Hi Naseem,

      I shared some of those same concerns when I first started conducting virtual sessions. However, it does have some advantages. People tend to see only the benefits to the employer or client such as saving travel costs.

      A few months after I started in this role I conducted a training for a client that included all levels of the organization. At the end of our time together, one of the managers jokingly stated “I don’t think I’ve heard “Joe” speak up so much in all the time I’ve known him”. Later “Joe” sent me a message to thank me for my time. He told me he wished their company did more training like this as he didn’t really feel comfortable speaking up with everyone looking at him.

      I had my ah-ha moment that day and many more have followed. As with classroom training, some will struggle and some will thrive. There is a learning curve for instructors, bu I enjoy having the opportunity to be the person that opens someone up to a whole new world. If you get the chance to lead a virtual session, give it a try. You never know how it might change things for you.


  • Hi Amy!
    Thank you for your suggestions and useful tools that you provided. I will use some of them next week and than share my experience with all.

    Thank you,

  • Hi Amy.
    I enjoyed reading your post and I had to cringe about your opening. Looking back, I believe we created this “teaching virtually from home” moment ourselves. I am guilty of making people suffer through power point presentations online, often without audio. Fortunately it did not take very long to move virtual learning into a professional environment that also respects multiple facets of adult learning. You are so right, when you state “know your tools ..and create interactivity”. It is with people like you, that we can finally learn on the go, at our fingertips, and share more expert advice. Thank you for your contribution to our blog.
    What kinds of new features and technologies do you see in the near future of virtual learning?

    Warm regards,
    Ute Westphal

  • Hi Amy,

    interesting post, interestingly, during all my matriculation here in the TRDV program. this is my first time hearing the phrase, “Virtual Instructor Led Training.” I also, do think that there are those who think it’s nothing more than sitting at home in your pajamas grading self paced learning programs.

    As you stated, “practice makes perfect” and if I did not know this too well, I do after complete the E-Learning Course Authoring-1 and 2. I’m going to dig around and see if I can find another course of this sort, so I can practice the tools covered during my last semester.

  • Hi Amy,

    As I am currently taking an online course, I really enjoyed reading your article and gaining the instructor’s perspective. I particularly liked your fourth point that you brought up about how if you aren’t keeping their attention – someone else is. As a student, I find it exceptionally difficult to be engaged in a online course when I have such easy access to television, phones, the internet, etc. I am learning that in order for me to succeed I have to place myself in a quite place where there are little to no distractions (preferably a library). This way I know in order to leave I have to complete what I have come to do. Again, I loved reading your article and thank you for sharing your expertise!


  • Hi Amy,

    You have such an interesting job. How did you get into virtual training?

  • I have been hosting online training sessions for almost 10 years for my organization, and have grown to enjoy this type of training very much. There are, however, inherent differences in presentation style with online training. It is important to remember that unlike classroom, small group or one-on-one training, with online training you lack the advantage of such things as eye contact with your audience and body language communication. What you DO have is your tone of voice, your organization, your sense of humor (depending upon the audience), and the need to check in on your audience on a regular basis to ensure the audience is still engaged. It is challenging, but can be very rewarding to deliver online training that is as effective as face-to-face training.


  • Hi Amy!

    I enjoyed your article! I think a common misconception of those who do not understand may perceive your job to be easier, when in fact, it can be harder. Thanks for sharing the best practices. Those are great tips of advice. The biggest takeaway of the five was the tip competition is stiff! Virtually, that can be a challenge because people tend to have several windows open along with the TV on and their cellphone nearby. Therefore, keeping the content engaging, challenging and intriguing can help minimize some of that.!


  • I thought it was awesome that you compared Hollywood to the virtual learning. It allowed readers to instantly gain a sense of what you were talking about. I do agree that the Virtual is just another outlet used to reaching students and it allows workers with families to still be able to attain a degree. I do agree that there are more distractions faced virtually, but the distractions really depend on the student because their are distractions in the classroom as well, however, that student that wants to learn will deter from it.

  • Hi Amy,
    I enjoyed reading your article and thank you for posting tips for virtual training. It may be difficult to evaluate the impact of the student learning since there is no actual face to face interaction. Can you share some of the challenges you face in measuring the effectiveness of the training and transfer of knowledge to the workplace?

  • Hello Amy,
    What a great blog post! Thank you so much for sharing such valuable information! In my opinion, virtual learning is the wave of the future in learning and development. Have you had any challenges with ensuring that learners are engaged? What obstacles have you encountered with evaluating virtual programs? How have you overcome the obstacles you have faced?


  • Hi Amy,
    Thank you for pointing out the importance of virtual training which is a wonderful blend of technology and getting the material delivered! The process has made training and development understandable for many learners. In addition, the pointers were great reminders of how I need to continually modify training tools and other materials so that learners clearly understand what is being communicated and transfer it to the workplace.

  • Amy,

    Good blog, thanks for the information. I am a big believer that virtual learning is the way to go. How young should a virtual learner be, do you think it would be hard to have elementary students engaged. As we all know some of these younger children can work a computer better than many adults. I just wonder what your thoughts are this type of learning being introduced to the younger generations. As you are already in this field has this been brought up for discussion at any of your network events.


  • Nice work, Amy. I know you know your stuff. I haven’t anyone make a better use PowerPoint.

    Also, congratulations on finishing the program!

  • Hi Amy, wonderful post and very informative. I agree with your list of best practices for Virtual Instructor Led Training. Thanks for sharing. Congratulations on achieving your MATD degree. It’s a great accomplishment.

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