Being a strong leader is a central part of managing a virtual classroom. You need to guide discussions, resolve conflicts, and set boundaries for virtual class behavior for the training session to be successful.
Here are some techniques and strategies that will help you manage your online classroom like a seasoned professional. Follow these practices, and you’ll find that participants are better engaged and walk away with new skills they can use on the job right away.
9 Tips for managing your virtual classroom
1. Set a schedule for yourself and participants
Developing a structure is important for yourself and for the learners. Setting a schedule is a good way to make sure everyone completes their work on time. It also will help you have enough time to address questions, check assignments, and make updates.
Here are some tips for setting a helpful schedule:
- Before the course begins, add time into your calendar for administrative duties. Every other day works well.
- Set expectations upfront by telling learners when course assignments are due.
- Send regular updates and reminders to keep participants on track.
2. Build anticipation for the course
Treat your training launch with some showmanship. Deliver some teasers ahead of schedule that let participants know something exciting is coming up. Here are some examples you can borrow:
- Post notices on your internal messaging board well in advance.
- Give a sneak peek by showing some highlights for the course or releasing the first introduction assignment early.
- Ask your internal influencers for help by asking supervisors, leadership, or other respected individuals to send reminders.
3. Set virtual class rules
When an online cohort comes together, set ground rules. If you’re doing a live web session, do this at the same time you tell people to go on mute if they’re not speaking. It sets the tone and gives everyone a shared framework for group learning.
Setting ground rules can clarify what is acceptable or not acceptable at your online training session. Some cultures might feel comfortable taking calls or asking questions any time—others don’t. Some people find online training intimidating, so this can help them understand what you expect.
4. Encourage a team effort.
The physical distance in online learning groups can makes it hard for spur-of-the-moment collaboration to happen. Not everything needs to be a group project, but you can increase collaboration with encouraging exchanges, questions, and even brainstorming sessions. This helps your team work together.
5. Get learners participating right away.
It’s easy to disappear in a virtual classroom because no one is watching your chair. Prevent this from happening by setting the tone for participation. Ask remote learners to log in early, tell them to introduce themselves to others, and encourage questions frequently to keep the course lively.
Here are some ways to ask for feedback from participants, including:
- A forum designed for general thoughts
- A survey at the end of the course
- Polls throughout the training. For example, ask how relevant they think information is or how long it took them to complete a module.
- Asking for thumbs-up or thumbs-down emojis on your team chat channel
- Direct questions about how the material relates to their work
Read more about ways to build participation in remote training here.
6. Use a conversational tone.
Tone matters. The way your words come across to the person reading them will make a difference to the way people believe and trust you as a course administrator.
Finding the right balance between personable and professional can make the difference between a lively class and a disengaged one. A conversational tone is best, but make sure to respect the adult learners who are in your course. Sometimes instructional text can come across as condescending.
7. Address conflict immediately.
When you work with a virtual classroom made up of people who have their own sources of stress, insecurities, and sensibilities, conflict will occasionally happen. Upholding control in your virtual classroom is vital to successful facilitation.
Here are some common ways that conflicts happen and some communication tips you can do to ease negative tension before it disrupts the classroom too much.
Conflict between two participants: If students engage in disrespectful or combative conversation, first acknowledge the confrontation:
“Louisa and Devon, I can see that you have differing views on this topic. Thank you for beginning a lively discussion.”
Then, ask the students to discuss the matter with you offline:
“I’m happy to discuss this matter with you offline via phone or email so we may resolve the situation outside of the public forum.”
This type of response lets you re-establish control over the situation and help to diffuse the building tension.
8. Remember cultural competency in the classroom.
If any cross-cultural communication issues crop up, be gentle when you address them. Rather than correcting people publicly or addressing them from the position of authority, turn communication gaffes into learning experiences.
Ask participants questions that allow everyone to explore their preconceived notions about a topic or individual. Use the discussion to explore deeper issues within the course and its contents, especially among students who disagree or argue about a particular topic. You might ask people to share what the cultural norm is for them in a training session, and use that as a starting point in your virtual classroom.
9. Chunk material for easy learning.
The average person can stay focused and engaged for 45 to 60 minutes before they need a break. Think about the meetings you’ve attended, and how long you’ve been able to sit in your seat without your mind wandering or needing to stretch your legs. The same applies to virtual classroom settings.
The most effective online lessons are broken into chunks to make it easy to work through them. Building modules of 30 minutes to 45 minutes are a good guideline to keep people motivated.