Converting from Physical to Virtual Class: 4 Pitfalls to Avoid
In this pandemic, many organizations are having to make quick decisions about converting from a physical to a virtual class delivery. With a well-designed classroom program in hand, it can be tempting to take the materials, slides, and activities you have developed for the face-to-face program, chunk them up and break them into a series of virtual classes.
That would be a mistake.
The virtual class is a different delivery medium to the physical class, requiring different design approaches. When well-designed, it can offer a learning experience that not only matches but potentially surpasses the physical class experience. Matching or outdoing the success of the physical classroom requires design approaches that reflect and work for the new medium.
Here are 4 pitfalls of converting from the face-to-face to the virtual class and how to avoid them.
1 Matching the Class Duration and the Virtual Class Duration
A 3-day virtual class does not convert to a 3-day online class. Not even if you break it up into 3 days of 90-minute online sessions. Consider the affordances of the medium and the intensity of the online experience. While the precise duration of an online program will depend on the audience, purpose, content, and other factors – and it is neither possible nor wise to give an exact conversion rate – the total runtime for a live online program will typically be shorter than its face-to-face counterpart. The intensity of the online class may mean less can be covered in a single online session, but other aspects of the design approaches and the nature of the medium itself will mean the pacing is faster in other ways.
2 Using the Same Activities as in a Physical Classroom
While some activities used in the face-to-face version of a program will convert well to an online class, this will not be the case for all.
What was the purpose of the activity? What were the benefits of the activity?
An icebreaker where everyone pairs up with someone in the room, tells their partner something about themselves and then introduce each other to the whole group might be fun in a face-to-face class but in an online class it brings in a whole layer of unnecessary complexity. However, opening with an informal and engaging visual ‘meet and greet’ – such as everyone introducing themselves via chat, saying what the weather is like, where they are, if they have a pet (and what it is) – can be done easily and quickly in a virtual class to engage learners and encourage interaction.
The point is that both icebreakers achieve the desired result –getting people familiar with each other and comfortable in the group but in different ways that suit the different channels.
3 Skipping the Socialization
The absence of some social cues and the natural socialization of a face-to-face class – people greeting each other and networking as they arrive, round table seating, etc. – doesn’t mean you accept those elements as missing. What you need to do is double-down on these activities. Virtual classes require a special effort on the part of the instructor to ensure there are opportunities to socialize from the outset and throughout the class.
Gilly Salmon, an expert in virtual classes, includes a socialization step as one of the first in her 5-stage model for online virtual classes. Socialization is crucial – a point that will be lost on few as we struggle through the COVID crisis. This is particularly relevant when onboarding employees remotely, where deliberate activities must be built in to help new hires get to know each other.
Start as you mean to continue. Invite participants to take part in an activity at the beginning of the session – a ‘virtual meet and greet’ or an icebreaker that will help them get to know their classmates and feel more comfortable as they embark on other collaborative activities throughout the session.
4 Mismatching the Pace
There’s a bit of an apparent contradiction in moving to virtual classes. On the one hand, the pace in a virtual class can often seem (and indeed need) to be faster than in a physical class.
On the other hand, the relative complexity of a virtual environment compared to face-to-face may mean you have to be more conscious of keeping the presentation simpler, and not overloading the participant. This doesn’t mean that one type of teaching takes longer or is slower than the other; it simply means they are different.
Some of the logistics in the physical class may take longer. For instance, going around the room to do a meet and greet might take 15 minutes; in a virtual class, it’s over in 5. Switching into breakout groups takes a few minutes in a physical class; in a virtual class it’s almost instant.
You will probably also present less content on each of your virtual slides, because in the intensity of the virtual experience it’s particularly important not to overwhelm with visuals. This doesn’t mean you teach less, but that you adapt your instructional design approach and strategies: having only 3 to 4 key points on slides, for instance, but providing deeper details or examples on handouts for the virtual class, that participants can follow along with. Or you ‘flip’ the classroom so that learners are assigned pre-VILT learning activities to complete before they attend the virtual class and then the class itself can focus on higher-order activities and learning goals.
In conclusion, designing for a virtual class requires a different design approach for a different medium. When converting a classroom program to a virtual class program, start by thinking about what you want to achieve from the program, and mapping back to activities that will deliver on those desired outcomes. Keep or adapt those that will convert well to the online format, replace those that won’t and make use of the tools of the virtual class, based on robust pedagogical thinking, to deliver a virtual program that meets your learning goals.