3 Tips for moving face to face training to the live online classroom

3 Tips for moving face to face training to the live online classroom

Live, online classes are here to stay

As we emerge from isolation and return to ‘normal’, many in the adult education profession have debated what will the new ‘normal’ look like.

There is no doubt that our new normal will include more live, online classes.  And why not?  Live, online learning can reach more people in more places than face to face training can.  As a facilitator of live, online sessions, I don’t need to commute and can be ready for work with far less effort.  Who wouldn’t want this!?

But… live online learning is only a good idea if it works—that is, if outcomes are achieved.

In this post, I’ll share the top 3 things I’ve learned about converting face to face training sessions to live, online sessions that will ‘work’.

First things first… what exactly, is live, online learning?

Live online learning is like classroom-based training that is facilitated using a virtual platform.

Like face-to-face training:

  • live online sessions are facilitator-led
  • for the best results, the participant group size should be small—no larger than about 16 participants
  • the most effective live online learning sessions are part of a broader learning journey
  • participants will achieve session outcomes if the learning content and activities are relevant, engaging, and based on known principles of adult learning and performance

Unlike face-to-face training:

  • facilitators of live online sessions need both content mastery and tech mastery
  • live online sessions are more fatiguing—and therefore shorter—than face-to-face sessions.

To work, both face to face training and live online learning require relevant content, engagement and active participation. But how we achieve these in live online sessions is vastly different from how we achieve them in face to face training.

Tip 1: Identify essential content

Identify content that is best covered in the live, online environment

At the start of any potential learning project, my first questions are:

“What must people be able to do, and what do they need to achieve this?”

The answers to these questions are especially important when converting face-to-face training to live, online learning.  Since live, online sessions are shorter than face-to-face sessions, you’ll likely need to cut some content from your face-to-face program or find other ways for participants to learn it.  To help you do this, consider:

  1. Which content is essential to achieve the desired outcomes?
  2. Of the essential content, which content is best delivered and processed with help from a facilitator and other participants?
  3. Which content could be covered through other means, such as reading, watching videos, workplace observation, self-guided reflective activities, and so on.

Then, prepare the learning journey that your live, online sessions will be a part of.

Check tech

Familiarise yourself with the live, online platform you will use.  There are many live, online platforms and each one has a unique set of features and tools.  To design and prepare for effective live, online learning, you must first get to know your ‘tech tools’—that is, the tools available to you, to invite engagement and sustain active participation.

The graphic below shows some popular engagement tools that are available on most live online platforms:

Check out the platform you use.  Identify which engagement tools are available to you and learn how they work.

Tip 2: Prepare resources

Use resources that are designed for live, online learning

When COVID-19 first took hold and stay-at-home restrictions were introduced, many organisations scrambled to convert their face-to-face training to a live, online delivery mode.  These organisations were applauded for their agility—errors in execution were understood and forgiven, given the quick turnaround time.  Months on, the forgiveness of a fast turnaround has been replaced with an expectation of quality.  We now expect providers of live, online learning to offer a quality learning experience that achieves outcomes.  To do this, resources must be designed specifically for the live, online environment.

Face-to-face learning materials don’t always work when used in a live, online classroom.  Here’s an example:

In a recent face-to-face conference, I presented a session on assessment validation.  To get participants thinking about the session and what they would find useful, at the start of the session I asked them to discuss the items shown on the slide with someone beside them:

A few weeks later, the same organisation asked me to deliver the same session at a virtual conference.  I had to completely re-work the resources to achieve similar levels of engagement in the virtual delivery environment.  I started from scratch and redesigned the warm-up this way:

Start from scratch

Don’t try to re-work existing learning materials.  Instead, I have found it easier to design new materials from scratch and incorporate elements of the existing materials as appropriate.

Tip 3: Prepare participants

Effective facilitators of live, online learning must focus on three things at once:

  • program content and activities
  • the technology they are using
  • how participants are progressing.

Participants must also multi-task.  They must focus on:

  1. what they are learning
  2. how to use the live online platform’s tools to engage in learning
  3. other participants—we are, by nature, social beings, and learn through collaboration.


When converting your face to face program to live, online delivery, manage cognitive load by teaching one thing at a time.

For example, when introducing an activity where participants will use a new tech tool for the first time:

  1. first, teach how to use the tool
  2. then, introduce the activity.


Here’s an example:

When facilitating live, online sessions using Zoom, I often use annotation tools.  Before the first time I introduce an activity where I want participants to use an annotation tool, I first show how to access the tool.  Next, I let the participants access the tool.  Finally, I introduce the activity.  To do this, I set up my slides like this:

Three steps to teaching tech in a live online session

In summary

As we settle into our ‘new normal’ post COVID-19, I look forward to returning to having a choice of delivery options, including both face to face and live, online learning.

Whilst live, online learning has been a great learning solution during COVID-19, it is not the best delivery mode in every situation.  But, it is perfect for many, especially as we get better at designing and facilitating live, online learning that works.  Therefore, live online learning deserves its place at the table beside other delivery modes such as face to face training, eLearning, work-based learning and other popular delivery modes.

I enjoy facilitating live, online learning, and enjoy seeing participants’ sense of achievement as they achieve program outcomes and become more proficient at using live, online learning tools.

So as we settle into our ‘new normal’ post COVID-19, I’ll look forward to seeing more high-quality, live online learning.

  • Geoff Higginson
    Posted at 01:40h, 10 June Reply

    Wow was this ever timely. Our organization is currently developing our online learning platform and learning management system for Masonry construction apprenticeship programs. Whilst never replacing practical shop projects, which we are now doing with smaller socially distanced groups of trainees, online interactive learning sessions on the moodle platform will be the way of the future. Your thoughtful and thorough treatment of the challenge is a great framework for my colleagues to work from. Thanks Blackwater Projects and Chemene.

    • Chemene Sinson
      Posted at 12:13h, 10 June Reply

      Hi Geoff, I’m so pleased that you found the content useful. I know that people are at all stages of expertise with live, online classes, so it was hard to know how to pitch it. In the end, I just thought I’d share the main things I’ve learned the past few months, as I’ve worked to convert face to face training to live, online learning, and hoped that others may find them useful. Glad you did!

  • Trevor Manning
    Posted at 15:42h, 10 June Reply

    Chemene, I have been flat out developing online courses and totally agree that you need to start from scratch Some useful observations in your post. Stay well!

    • Chemene Sinson
      Posted at 11:30h, 11 June Reply

      Thanks, Trevor!

  • Elizabeth Gunn
    Posted at 10:21h, 15 June Reply

    Thanks for sharing your insights here Chemene. Your materials are really engaging and would generate lots of participant interaction; I love the focus on inquiry and fun. Look forward to more sharing through different platforms and channels, Liz

    • Chemene Sinson
      Posted at 13:34h, 15 June Reply

      Thank you, Elizabeth. Your feedback means a lot and will encourage me to keep trying new things. Would love to get some of your ideas, also!

  • David Wayne
    Posted at 12:07h, 15 June Reply

    Always valuable when a master of the art of education shares their experience to help others avoid trial and error. Great to get yours Chemene

    • Chemene Sinson
      Posted at 13:33h, 15 June Reply

      I’m blushing, David. But you know the policy that I know we share – as soon as we think we’re masters, that’s when we might start wrongly thinking that we know everything we need to know. And when it comes to virtual learning, for me, there remains a lot to learn!! 🙂

  • Craig Gowan
    Posted at 11:09h, 16 June Reply

    Thanks Chemene for your valuable insights. Having done the ‘quick fix’ conversion of Finance programs early in COVID, I’m now undertaking a full rewrite, just as you suggest! Really appreciate your wisdom.

    • Chemene Sinson
      Posted at 12:00h, 16 June Reply

      Thanks Craig, I appreciate your comments. You are one of my ‘quick conversion heroes’. I’d be interested to learn what changes you made once you had a chance to revisit the material.

  • faraz ahmad
    Posted at 04:30h, 21 November Reply

    I just read this article and found it informative. I hope I can see more in the future.

    • Chemene Sinson
      Posted at 10:28h, 21 November Reply

      Thank you Faraz. I’m glad that you found it useful. I hope to write more, it’s just a matter of finding the time!

  • Julie Cristie Neal
    Posted at 02:53h, 01 December Reply

    thanks for sharing great informatic content I really appreciate you now I will regularly visit the website for the great information.

  • Konny Reimann
    Posted at 03:18h, 01 December Reply

    An amazing post! Thanks for sharing this article.

  • Rachel S
    Posted at 01:49h, 13 March Reply

    Hey Chemene, this was a great post! I loved your approach to the topic, and this information was undoubtedly timely. I’m a little late to the party, but information like this is pretty relevant, in my opinion. I’ve worked with my company on online employee training courses since those sweet, sweet pre-COVID times, and it helped with the transition to our new normal. Quality online learning is crucial for today’s remote workforce, and live courses are fantastic! I agree entirely about starting from scratch. It’s really helpful to each company. You just need a template to make sure all the basics are covered. You covered this beautifully in the “Identify essential content” section. You asked: “What must people be able to do, and what do they need to achieve this?” That’s just such an important question to start with for any online learning program. You moved on to preparing resources, which I fear many companies will learn the hard way. Many of us were accustomed to how things worked in the pre-COVID era, and it’s not always evident that it won’t translate well into an online environment. But I think preparing the participants is maybe the MOST overlooked step so far. I’ve heard many stories of attempted courses since the focus shifted to online EVERYTHING, and annotation tools are frequently overlooked… All in all, I loved your post, and it was super engaging. Thanks for sharing!

    • Chemene Sinson
      Posted at 16:13h, 13 March Reply

      Hi Rachel, thanks for such a detailed and thoughtful response. It meant a lot! 🙂

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