5 Guiding Questions: Take Your In-Person Training Activities Virtual

5 Guiding Questions: Take Your In-Person Training Activities Virtual

By Tracy Wright, MAED, & Annika Shore, MPH | April 20, 2015
Project Director, ETR, & Professional Development Consultant, ETR

One of the essential hallmarks of a successful training is participant engagement through planned activities. Trainers know how to do this well in in-person trainings. But, for many of us, designing and delivering activities in the virtual environment can feel less certain—even intimidating.


Here are 5 guiding questions that will help you design successful virtual training activities. As you walk through these questions, use one of your successful in-person training activities as your reference.

1. Does this activity link directly to the achievement of one or more of the learning objectives?

This is a fundamental consideration for every activity in every training! Cardinal rule: if an activity doesn’t advance your objectives, it doesn’t belong in the training.

2. What made this in-person activity successful?

Understanding what makes your activities work in the first place is key to your success in any type of training.

Example: Many people use brainstorming activities in their in-person trainings. Why does brainstorming work?

  • It engages participants in a process that freely generates thoughts and ideas around a topic.
  • It’s a “low risk” activity—contributing is optional and most likely everyone brings some expertise to the table.
  • It’s a great way to help a group focus on a topic, and, if used early on, helps participants “warm up.”
3. Can you easily replicate the successful elements of your in-person activity using your virtual training platform?

Some successful in-person training activities can be easily replicated in virtual settings. Others cannot.

To think about how well your activity can be replicated, take it through the checklist below. If you can answer YES to each of these points, you have a replication-worthy activity. If you have some NOs, consider using a different activity, or adapting the one you’ve chosen so it’s better suited to your virtual environment.




I can identify at least one way to replicate the essential elements of the activity in my virtual learning environment (e.g., quiz, poll, virtual whiteboard, chat, game, survey).



Verbal and visual instructions are easily communicated to learners.



The activity is well matched to the planned pace and time allotment of my virtual learning opportunity.



The activity offers opportunities for interaction between individual learners, between learners and content, and/or between learners and instructors.




Example: There are several ways to successfully conduct a brainstorming activity using common virtual training technologies. For example, learners can enter their thoughts into chat windows or on a virtual whiteboard.

But be realistic! Some activities, such as roleplays, do not translate easily into virtual settings. Reasonable alternatives might be to present a case study or a roleplay-like dialogue and have learners respond to a set of guiding questions.

4. If your activity cannot be easily replicated in virtual formats, what approaches can you use to meet the learning objective virtually?

All of us get attached to favorite activities. We’ve seen them work, and we want to use them and see them work again. As we spend more time working in virtual learning environments, we’ll develop some new favorites that work brilliantly in those settings. But we have to be ready to explore new options to discover these favorites.

Example: Let’s take our brainstorming example again. Imagine your in-person activity was carousel brainstorming. This is an activity where small groups of participants rotate from chart pad to chart pad to record their collective brainstormed ideas. Then the large group processes the key findings and insights. It’s not something that can be directly translated to virtual formats.

So trainers need to consider the specific learning objective for the activity. Most likely the expected outcome includes the generation of multiple ideas, participant engagement and community building. If that is the case, other virtual methods can be used to achieve the objective(s). Consider using virtual white boards, chat or breakout rooms. Now is the time to be creative with your technology to achieve this objective!

5. What does your technology allow you to do?

Take the time to get to know your virtual training platform’s functions. Take an online tour, take a course yourself, find a mentor and PRACTICE!  Mastering the technology will feed your creativity as you design virtual activities that lead learners toward meeting the learning objectives.

Yes, It Works!

Note that we used brainstorming as just one example. These guiding questions apply to any number of activities being considered for virtual learning delivery. For example, take a look at this inventive in-person training activity that includes adaptation guidelines for the virtual environment. We’ll be providing more examples of these types of adaptations in future Learning Matters and Facilitation Quick Tips posts on the ETR Blog.

Of course there’s a lot more to moving an in-person training to virtual delivery than just the activities. If you’d like help working on your virtual training designs or objectives, check with ETR’s Professional Development team. We offer technical assistance, capacity building and consultation to a wide range of organizations.

Tracy Wright, MAED, is a Project Director at ETR. She is a skilled distance learning, eLearning and professional development specialist. She has also served as a health education teacher in both middle and high schools. She can be reached at tracy.wright@etr.org.

Annika Shore, MPH, serves as a professional development consultant with ETR. In that role, she provides support on all aspects of ETR’s professional learning services. You can reach her at annika.shore@etr.org.




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