Review: The Successful Virtual Classroom

What can someone say about virtual classrooms today besides reminding folks to avoid death by Powerpoint? Author Darlene Christopher in “The virtual classroomSuccessful Virtual Classroom: How to Design and Facilitate Interactive and Engaging Live Online Learning,” has lots to say on the subject, basing conclusions on her experience and citing a number of case studies from groups such as Oracle, UPS, U.S. Army, World Bank, and The Nature Conservancy.

Bringing together groups from various global locations to create a great virtual classroom can be a challenge, so to meet the challenge, the author suggests these techniques to maximize participant learning.

  • Use the PREP model (plan, rehearse, execute, post review)
  • Use tools, checklists, and worksheets
  • Use screen sharing, polls, and breakout rooms
  • Bring chat into the classroom
  • Monitor feedback
  • Use icebreakers
  • Encourage audience participation
  • Consider the cultural elements of your audience

With everyone on Amazon giving the book 5 out of 5 stars (with 10 reviewers agreeing when I checked in March, 2016) that provides a good indication the book gives good advice. It can be a resource for someone starting out in conducting virtual learning sessions or someone who has experience and wants to learn more.

In addition to giving a big picture of the advantages and disadvantages of virtual classrooms, the author also provides practical tips. I did not know, for example, that I could get free images from the site (page 78).

Scheduling support staff such as a producer, instructional designer, and IT support personnel can help during a session as this support staff is the author’s idea of an ideal situation. Members of an ideal team for development include the producer, facilitator, SME, instructional designer, administrators, IT support person, and participants (page 50).

A table (page 40) provides questions to consider when learning to use a virtual classroom tool. Here are some of the questions.

  • What audio options are available?
  • Can I send both public and private chat messages?
  • How do I display slides?
  • How do I write on the screen or whiteboard?
  • What are the maximum number of participants?
  • What types of polls are available – multiple choice, multiple answer?
  • How do people move in and out of breakout rooms?
  • How do I launch the screen sharing feature?

Tips in the book come from case studies and the author’s experience as a regional knowledge and learning officer at the Word Bank. She has been designing and delivering virtual training programs for global audiences for many years and is an award winner for this work.

She has a diverse technology background holding web product management positions in Silicon Valley at Infoseek, Disney Internet Group, and 3Com. She holds a Master’s degree in International Management from the Monterey Institute of International Studies as well as a Bachelor’s degree in Spanish from the University of California, Davis. She is a regular speaker at ASTD national events and various ASTD chapter events, having authored articles on the subject virtual classrooms. This is her first book.

“The Successful Virtual Classroom: How to Design and Facilitate Interactive and Engaging Live Online Learning.” [Paperback] By Darlene Christopher (2014),  AMACOM Division of American Management Association.  224 pages.  ISBN  0814434290, 9780814434291.

By Jeanette Evans

Note to readers:  A version of this review is scheduled to appear in Technical Communication.