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Ray Makela

By: Ray Makela on April 30th, 2020

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Pivoting to Virtual Learning: Your Questions Answered

Virtual Training

We recently hosted a webinar with Sam Herring from Intrepid by Vitalsource to discuss how to make the pivot to Virtual and Digital Learning.

With the current work-from-home requirements,we’ve seen many of our clients forced to go entirely virtual, almost overnight. That doesn’t happen easily.

During the webinar, we received dozens of live questions from the participants and answered as many as we could throughout the session.

We saw these questions fall into three categories:

  1. Instructional Design Questions: How to repurpose or design a curriculum for a virtual world.
  2. Technology/Platform Questions: Which platforms and technology solutions support specific learning objectives.
  3. Engagement/Delivery Questions: What can you do to ensure virtual and digital learning engages the learner?

We've highlighted many of the questions and answers below.

Instructional Design Questions

"All live sessions have been called off indefinitely. Would you recommend we create new material or adapt existing ILT for VILT?"

Your existing curriculum can work well in a virtual or On-Demand environment without the need to start from scratch, but careful consideration needs to be made to the instructional design of the new program.

The design needs to consider participant engagement, length of sessions, group size, and opportunities to practice skills within the virtual program. Also, we recommend adding opportunities for participants to collaborate with each other before, during and after the sessions.

"All my programs are suspended, and travel is restricted. I don't believe that two-day courses can be delivered online."

You can absolutely deliver a two-day workshop all online—but not all at once!

When pivoting to virtual, it's critical to chunk up your curriculum into bite-size pieces, either with micro-eLearning videos or manageable Virtual Instructor-Led Training sessions (VILT).

For example, a two-day in-person program might take six to eight 2-hour VILT sessions, or multiple weeks using Massive Open Online Course (MOOC) type approach to deliver the same content.

"We have over 1,500 salespeople, and with our customers closing their offices, our reps are trying to reach out via telephone as much as possible, but they obviously have time available. Our management teams have requested DAILY training on "the whole pie." What kind of time frame/course length is effective?"

If training is frequently happening, we recommend no more than one to two-hour sessions, with some activity or skill application in between. Ideally, participants can have a place to collaborate (via a learning platform or messaging app) in between sessions.

In our experience, providing too much content without time to digest or apply the skills will result in content overload and decreased engagement.

"Following the suggestion that virtual training should last too long, what is the maximum time that you suggest virtual training should last? to keep the audience's attention."

If it's an ongoing program, such as weekly or bi-weekly sessions, we recommend no more than 2-hour sessions, with a short recess or activity in the middle of each session to break things up.

Providing frequent audience interactions such as chats, polls, and discussions are critical to keeping the audience's attention. It's vital to use a skilled facilitator to encourage interaction, and to call on participants to keep participation levels high.

Technology/Platform Questions

"I'd love to hear how people are efficiently creating and implementing digital cohorts. What tools are being used, and what are the capabilities of those tools? I'm specifically considering Yammer and Microsoft Teams (we're a Microsoft shop)."

There are many collaborative learning platforms and other tools that are available to encourage interaction and engagement within virtual cohorts. Many learning platforms like Intrepid have this capability built-in, or organizations use their existing collaboration application to post questions and interact during a learning program.

Selection of the collaboration application is dependent on many factors. These include the existing infrastructure, number of users, technology platform, comfort level of the participants, and overall cost, etc.

Regardless of the application you choose, our recommendation is to have some means of collaborating easily among the cohorts. Ideally, the tool should be linked or integrated into the learning platform to limit the number of logins and applications participants need to access to engage in the cohort.

"What would you use technology-wise for delivering synchronous (in real-time) learning for 200-300 people teams?"

Large teams of 200-300 people (or more) would ideally be divided into smaller cohorts to encourage collaboration and engagement. Many platforms (e.g., Zoom, Adobe Connect, Teams) can accommodate hundreds of users, but with that many participants, the training becomes more one-way or asynchronous. Sub-groups or channels can be used to encourage more intimacy and connections within the larger group.

Ideally, even in a Massive Open Online Course (MOOC) setting, participants should still have a platform to collaborate, post questions, interact, and share experiences. Platforms such as Intrepid support this need to collaborate by allowing for "missions," skill applications, and social interactions between participants as part of the overall learning program.

Engagement/Delivery Questions

"How do you know attendees are engaged in digital learning? Creative ideas? Tracking tools?"

One of the most successful ways to ensure attendees are engaged in digital learning is to keep the group sizes small (during VILT sessions) and call on and interact directly with participants. Frequent use of the chat function and group interactions will help highlight who's participating and who's not.

Many platforms allow the facilitator to see who's engaged (on-screen) and who's offline. Providing checkpoints, skill applications, and interactions during the sessions can also encourage interaction and engagement. Completion reports, dashboards, gamification, and badging can also provide analytics into how engaged learners are with the program.

"We are onboarding new employees (SDRs) and have never done this fully remotely. During SDR onboarding, new members interact greatly with their teammates. What are some ways I can keep them engaged?"

Providing a collaboration platform (via tools such as Microsoft Teams, Slack, or Intrepid) will go a long way to ensure the teammates are interacting and engaging with each other. Posting frequent discussion questions and challenges in this type of environment will keep them engaged.

We're also strong believers of using "Breakout Rooms" during live virtual training to provide a small group discussion experience. Zoom, Adobe Connect, and other virtual platforms provide an easy ability to break into smaller teams for discussion and skill applications.

"A long-standing concern: when training for "Skill," how one assures the actual acquisition of an applied skill in VILT (e.g., sales skills)?"

During VILT sessions, you'll want breakout rooms and frequent interactions to practice skill application and assess progress. Provide "rubrics" or feedback forms for participants to evaluate and provide coaching to each other during these sessions.

A facilitator can also give feedback and coaching in a "fishbowl" setting, where one participant practices a skill or presents a topic in front of the group. You can also use offline assignments such as recording and submitting videos or completing projects as a way to review and provide feedback on critical skills.

Take special care to make the assignments as practical and relevant as possible so that your participants feel like they're doing work that will immediately help them on the job.

Finally, after the training, a coaching guide and manager training are critical for front-line managers to be able to assess and coach the critical skills covered in the program. Having a simple skill assessment that defines the desired skills and behaviors expected of the participants will provide the coach with a framework for giving feedback.

"Do you see any rejection/resistance to VILT from older generations? Do you have data?"

We haven't seen general resistance to VILT from any particular demographic or age group. Adoption is more about the experience with the technology platform and tools. Another factor is the extent that participants have been offered training and orientation on the platform and technology before and at the start of the first session.

Each program should start with a review of a simple user guide and orientation to the technology and type of interactions that will be used. The introduction should also provide an opportunity for participants to practice using chat, polling, audience interactions, and feedback mechanisms throughout the session. Setting expectations about the interactive nature of the training program is critical to the overall program success.

"Do you have any suggestions for learners surfing their mobiles during E-learning sessions?"

Setting the expectation about the level and type of engagement is essential at the start of each session.

It's important to encourage participants to silence their phones, close other screens, and focus on the session. Calling on participants early on and engaging them in a chat or poll helps set the tone for the session. Ideally, leverage video as a facilitator, and encourage participants to use their video to promote better engagement and attention.

"How would it be the best structure to promote VILT inside a company? Bosses driving the rollout?"

The most successful programs we've seen are where the leadership team is involved before, during, and after the sessions to set expectations, kick off the session, and support the learning.

You can do this with a short video before the session or live engagement from a senior leader at the start of the program. Then provide frequent communication at all levels about what the program is, it's objectives, and expectations for participation. Finally, celebrate successes and completions to help gain support and momentum for the virtual training program.


These are difficult, unprecedented times when it comes to keeping your sales team engaged and trained on the latest products and skills they need to be competitive.

While sales teams may not be able to meet and train in-person, you can leverage proven Virtual, Instructor-Led Training techniques and digital platforms to collaborate and practice new skills. This is an ideal time to “sharpen the saw.”

Many of the ways you engage with your clients and prospects will change permanently as a result of their current remote work situation, and you need to practice and deliver value using the tools you have available.

Sales Training Research Report by Sales Readiness Group

About Ray Makela

Ray Makela is the General Manager of the Sales Readiness Group, A Part of SBI. He oversees all client engagements as well as serves as a senior facilitator on sales management, coaching, negotiation, and sales training workshops. Ray has over 20 years of management, consulting, and sales experience and writes frequently on best practices for coaching and developing sales teams.