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Virtually Speaking | Effective Online Learning Experiences

Brenda Harrington |
September 16, 2021

As a result of COVID-19, the world was thrust into overdrive to try to learn how best to use technology as a replacement for face-to-face interaction and daily activities. For everything from simple meetings to more complex learning events, presentations and retreats – many who previously relied on Internet-based meeting platforms for discretionary use continue to face a steep learning curve when it comes to the effective use of virtual meeting applications and tools.

We were grateful to have experience that placed us in front of this curve! Having been a Moderator on the Global Delivery team for Harvard Business School Publishing for more than six years, I have facilitated countless leadership, learning and development programs virtually. To help clients meet learning and development needs for remote and geographically disbursed teams, I have designed and facilitated numerous online programs for coaching, cohort learning, workshops, team retreats and interventions.

Among the greatest challenges faced when preparing for a virtual event is the approach taken to content design, or content redesign for programs originally created for a face-to-face environment. Here are a few things to keep in mind when preparing for online learning:

  • Less is more.

    Think about the most important points to be communicated and how that information can be organized into brief segments. To maintain a high level of interest and engagement, avoid periods of more than five minutes without incorporating a transition. The use of live polls, chat features, virtual breakout rooms and whiteboarding are examples of segues that can be used to create a bridge between presentation segments.

  • Get to know your technology.

    It is important to be comfortable with the technology platform being used. Whether using WebEx, Zoom, Microsoft Teams or other application, be sure to test the features to be used before the event. Even if it requires gathering a few friends to conduct a practice session, take time to test-drive the tools and applications to be used before you go live. Depending on the size of the group, it may be prudent to have a producer on the event as a co-host to manage the technology and assist attendees. This can be especially helpful when planning to use features such polling, breakout rooms and secondary apps for white-boarding and wordles.

  • Choose facilitation over pontification.

    When hosting a virtual meeting or event, it important to remain in service to the audience. Maintaining the attention, engagement and interest of attendees requires keeping the event interactive, getting their feedback along the way to check in on their learning, and making sure they do not slip from participant to spectator mode under your watch.

    Other considerations include whether or not to record an event and the appropriate duration (how long is too long?). With the right planning, virtual platforms and supporting apps now available make it possible to develop and deliver online learning events that will hold the interest of attendees, have impact, and achieve learning objectives.

    To start a conversation about how we can support your learning and development needs in the virtual environment, please send a message to, or call +1-703-723-6509.

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