Instructor - Virtual Classroom Best Practices

Instructor - Virtual Classroom Best Practices

This document focuses on tips to encourage people to listen and absorb your presentation.

Suggestions are divided into five sections so you can skip to the one that best matches your current challenges:

  • The Usual Suspects: A quick review of some basics that are key to any type of training and even more pertinent for an online class.
  • Be More of Yourself, with Less: Develop your online teaching style, and make yourself and your learners comfortable in the online environment.
  • Engage People, Often: Specific suggestions for how to encourage and hold attention and active student interaction in your online classroom.
  • Be Aware: Now that everyone is interacting with you, some tips on how to deal with all that information.
  • Deliver Meaningful Fun: Tips and tricks for how to use multimedia in an online environment to make training form follow function. 

The Usual Suspects

Let’s start by assuming you are at least ready to move beyond survival-teaching an online class. This means you have a bit of familiarity with web conferencing or virtual classrooms, and

Ensuring Your Class Goes Smoothly

When preparing for your virtual classroom session, there are three basic areas to consider: 

  • Qualifying Your Audience

The more you know about your learners, the more effective you are going to be at giving them just what they need. Define pre-requisites for your training, and if you have the tools and time to do so, verify they have been completed by your audience members.  

Pre-Class Best Practices

Good Provide a list of prerequisites
Better Provide a pre-test

Confirm the requisite knowledge has been attained by reviewing pre-test scores


  • Delivering Great Content

Make sure the content you plan to deliver is relevant, organized, clear and precise. Once you think it is organized, make it better. You won’t have the time to ‘page flip’ and look for what you need in an online class. 

Class Delivery Best Practices
Good Prepare an agenda and stick to it.

Prepare and post an agenda in your room. Have demonstration application windows open and ready. Print a copy of the agenda and have it in front of you with cues for demos and slides or videos.


Run through your checklist to verify everything is where it should be and functioning. Do this at least 30 minutes before the presentation. Use Layouts to organize groups of tasks.

  • Holding a Rehearsal

With any new course, especially if you are a new instructor, run through a rehearsal of your presentation – with an audience of more than one. You don’t need to ask your colleagues to join you for two hours if that is the planned duration of your session. Just run through each topic and presentation element to ‘mark’ each move you plan to make. Definitely use all the tools and launch all your content and demonstrations – every page of it – at least once, and in order. 

Be More of Yourself, With Less

The majority of trainers are comfortable with their personal style in the classroom. The trick is to also develop an online style. The tool you use can help, particularly if you provide your audience with some suggestions and ground rules for how to interact in your classroom. Try to bring some of those appealing elements into your online delivery, while staying true to your own teaching style.

  • Developing an Online Teaching Style

Teaching in a virtual environment differs greatly from instructing students in person. When you are teaching online, it is very important to tailor your personal style and pacing for the specificities of virtual classrooms.

The next step is critical. Once you start to have a sense of this style, abbreviate it. That’s right: now that you are so entertaining, stop showboating. In an online forum, jokes aren’t quite as funny, pregnant pauses last an eternity, and lengthy anecdotes are a license for your students to check their email.

Tips: Projecting a Personal Style

Do's Don'ts

Do tell brief anecdotal stories or use analogies to demonstrate a point.

Don’t tell stories that aren’t related to the core learning topics. Keep it relevant and keep it brief.

Do practice until you are comfortable with your material and your online classroom, as mentioned in the ‘Usual Suspects’.

Don’t confuse clarity and organization with dullness.

Do let people know if you need a minute to prepare something.

Don’t allow silences to last long, or speak haltingly while multitasking.

Do become comfortable using your web camera.

Don’t spend 20 minutes asking everyone to introduce themselves with their cameras.


Engage People Often

Motivating self-interest for a student to attend is important. This was discussed as a fundamental practice in the ‘Usual Suspects’ above. Make sure the goals of your class match the learning objectives of the students. If the information is either too simple or too complicated for an attendee, you are going to have a more difficult time keeping that person interested and engaged. This is where the pre-test can come in handy: don’t force competent people to take a class just to meet a requirement. Give them an efficient way to prove their knowledge without wasting an hour or more of their time sitting in a class that teaches them very little.

A second way to make everyone feel an important part of the learning community in your class is to encourage and direct hands-on activities. The virtual classroom environment should provide many options to facilitate an interactive community of learners, and to leverage the power of group experience and expertise. The goal is to take the class beyond just a lecture style environment. 

Learners will be more engaged, and will quickly become more likely to frequently interact without direction, which in turn helps add interest – and usually learning value and perspective – to a class. The trick is to figure out the best way to keep a particular audience involved and engaged. This is where your experience as a teacher or with the topic of study needs to come into play. 

Tips: Keeping Learners Engaged

Do's Don'ts

Do show users where to find emoticons and feedback tools provided in the virtual classroom.

Don’t just assume people will find and use emoticons. If possible, solicit feedback from students you know after the class and ask for honest opinions on your delivery style.


Here are a few examples of how you can gather feedback from students:

  • Using Status Options: Allow students to raise their hand or interact with one another in a non-intrusive manner.
  • Facilitating Collaborative Learning: When using breakout rooms, it is always a good idea to move freely between breakout rooms to answer questions or provide guidance, just as you would move from group to group in an in-person setting.
Breakout Room Best Practices
Provide instructions and a framework for breakout activities and leverage these with a rich mix of students such as mentor pairs, or the jigsaw model of mixing heterogeneous users across skill types.

Prepare the students for breakout rooms before you send them off on their own. Tell them how they can expect their screens to change.

Depending on the activity, you may assign someone as the facilitator in each breakout room.
Outline whether the groups will need to wait for you to enter each sub-room to get things started, or if they can dive in on their own.
Indicate the expected duration of the breakouts.
Provide a way for students to contact you if you are outside their room and assistance is needed.


Be Aware

Good teachers pay attention to their students. In an online class, the ability to respond to questions and feedback is even more important. When students raise their hands, send chat messages, or provide other forms of feedback, you need to first be aware that something needs your attention. An online classroom environment should notify you when new feedback and requests come in from your attendees. 

Presenter Only Area

The Presenter Only area allows you and other hosts and presenters to communicate with one another out of view from meeting participants. Use the Presenter Chat to communicate about things like timing or to tell someone to turn up their microphone volume. Use Presenter Notes to keep track of questions or issues you want to address later in the class.

Tips: Staying Aware of Students

Do's Don'ts

Do keep your eye on the room – the whole room. Scan the pods or windows to see if any new indicators have appeared.

Don’t give your students the impression you are ignoring them.

Do use a moderator or co-instructor if the group is large, the topic is complex, or if you are new to the online classroom or teaching a new topic for the first time.

Don’t let questions and feedback go completely without acknowledgement for very long in a training scenario.

Do use a ‘parking lot’ or other area to hold complicated or tangential questions for later. Don’t take a complicated question in the middle of getting your point across, and don’t allow questions to reroute your class.
Do explain the difference between private and public messaging options for your online class- room, and respond to private questions privately. Don’t mention the name of the student who asked a question if it was asked through a private medium.
Do practice with a second monitor or machine, and use a dual-monitor setup often when delivering your training. Log into the second machine as a ‘student’.

Don’t work on confidential documents or email while screen sharing. Turn off email and instant messaging notifications that could contain unexpected comments from anyone you know. 


Deliver Meaningful Fun

We would all be so entertained if all the training we needed was presented as part of our favorite game or TV show, wouldn’t we? Because of this, and because of all the excellent technology options out there to make training more interesting and thus dubiously more effective, many trainers and instructional designers are tempted by games and all things animated. Some expensive and highly produced training content comes as a veritable rumpus room of learner delights. Fun training could in fact be the best training ever, or it could be completely ineffective.

Tips: Keeping the Class Fun

Do's Don'ts
Do invest in multimedia and games to augment the learning experience which help to meet the goals of your class. Don’t use just any multimedia just because it is ‘cool’, or looks interesting.
Do break the rule above sparingly and indulge in something for pure fun during ‘off-teaching’ times. Don’t choose games that take a lot of time to explain or learn.


Try the suggestions that work for you, your organizational culture, and your learning goals and dismiss the ones that don’t. Be creative, and remember that the extra effort to practice and prepare will go a long way toward improving your online teaching skills, and hopefully student enjoyment.


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