Virtual Classroom Skills

    Virtual Classroom Skills

    If All the  World’s a Stage, Can the Virtual Classroom Be a More Engaging One?

    By  Merilee Ford, Senior Education Specialist, Cisco Systems

    Most  classroom instructors feel like “fish out of water” when they teach a virtual  class.  Worse, many report feeling drained after teaching online and find the experience largely unsatisfying compared to teaching in person.  And if that’s  the case, the student is likely feeling the same or worse!  Why is this?  Is this simply an occupational hazard we must accept in an  increasingly digital world?


    I  think most new virtual classroom instructors make two mistakes:

    1. They  conduct the virtual class in nearly the same way as the in-person class: same materials and same instructor-centered teaching style. 
    2. They  underestimate the degree of skill and practice necessary for success.


    It’s  not enough to simply know the subject matter and be experienced in the classroom to be effective in the virtual world. Practically no new skills are necessary to merely talk through PowerPoint slides that have been loaded into a  collaboration platform like Cisco WebEx.   The problem is most learners and instructors find this “death by PowerPoint” approach very unsatisfying, leaving them feeling disconnected and isolated from  one another.


    In my experience, the  most successful virtual instructors develop and practice specific new skills:

    • They have solid (if  not expert) knowledge of the virtual platform
      Skilled instructors develop a thorough understanding of the features and  capabilities of the virtual classroom platform and practice using them so that  they are able to confidently use those features and help students use them...while presenting.

    • They deliver a highly  interactive session
      Skilled instructors incorporate the human touch into their virtual classrooms  so the experience is engaging and fun for both the learner and instructor. Interacting  with learners in a meaningful way requires instructors to spend time learning  and practicing how to use content sharing, communication, and collaboration  tools to:
      • Engage learners with the content
      • Establish rapport
      • Pose engaging questions
      • Create an effective audio environment
      • Manage participation
      • Check comprehension
      • Gauge the level of agreement
      • Understand learner’s experience and attitude

    In  short, successful virtual instructors replace the non-verbal cues and learner feedback  of in-person classrooms with meaningful interactions designed to meet the same  goal.  They interact with their learners at  least every 3-5 minutes, in a variety of ways, both planned (designed into  course materials enhanced for virtual delivery), and spontaneously (ad hoc at  the instructor’s discretion).


    • They improve their  skills through practice
      Successful instructors practice using their virtual classroom skills until they  are natural parts of their instructional approach. They observe experienced  online instructors, watching for tips and best practices that they can  incorporate into their instruction and they ask experienced instructors for  feedback.  Finally, skillful instructors  continually self-evaluate, because they realize that every virtual classroom  experience offers an opportunity for instant feedback and skill development.


    I  believe there is a structured and proven way for committed instructors to  become expertly skilled in the virtual classroom.  Armed with a solid understanding of the  platform capabilities, effective online delivery skills, interactive session  materials, and a commitment to practice, the virtual classroom stage can be  equally—if not more--engaging, energizing, and satisfying as a real classroom  for both instructors and learners.

    What’s your best tip for teaching in a virtual classroom environment or your most  pressing question about teaching in a virtual classroom environment? 


    Add your tips or questions below.   We’d like  to hear from you.