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Best Practices for Virtual Facilitation: Three Key Roles for Effective Online Training Delivery

We all watched it happen before our very eyes. Organizations around the world, many with limited use of virtual instructor-led training (VILT) in their programs, were thrust into a pandemic-defined world where training had to be delivered through web-based training (WBT), VILT, or some other virtual means.

Programs that were traditionally facilitated in person now had to be adapted to online—and fast. And so many in the industry just did whatever was necessary to keep learning flowing. No doubt, they met with mixed success.

One thing that’s clear is that, after years of occasional use, virtual facilitation is here to stay. And as a necessary pivot now turns into standard practice, it’s critical to get it right. Well-constructed VILT can save money and time, enable larger and global audiences, ensure consistency through the organization, provide just-in-time learning, facilitate better measurement, offer a more personalized learning experience, and more. With advances in delivery platforms and modern best practices for design and strategy, you can build powerful and effective programs that eclipse the results you’ve gotten in the past.

Virtual facilitation is a team effort consisting of three critical roles.

The virtual environment presents challenges in-person sessions do not. For one thing, facilitators need to add some different skill sets to their toolbelt to shine in a virtual environment. Also, it is vital for the technology to run smoothly and for learners, their breakouts, and their questions to be well managed.

Once a program has been designed to optimize the virtual environment, there are three key roles needed to deliver that content online:

  • Virtual facilitator/coach: The virtual facilitator/coach’s role is to deliver learning content in an engaging way, foster learner discussions, provide feedback, and encourage insight and reflection. They have an expert understanding of the content and are instrumental in creating a virtual community where participants are connected to both the coach and to other participants.
  • Virtual producer: The virtual producer is responsible for the overall success of virtual events from a technical standpoint. They are a vital resource, providing assistance before, during, and after your training. They can help transform the training into trouble-free, fast-moving, interactive events that keep learners involved and the facilitator on track.
  • Moderator: The moderator has a visible presence, providing a human element to a digital experience. Their main purpose is to foster learner engagement through online and offline communication. They are the primary point of contact for learners, supporting and encouraging participation throughout the digital experience.

In virtual facilitation, each role enables the next, with the facilitator setting the mood and energy to ease the jobs of the producer and moderator, the producer ensuring technology cooperates for the facilitator and moderator, and the moderator corralling students for orderly facilitation and logistics.

You may already have the staff you need for successful virtual facilitation.

Each of the three roles above requires specific online skills that are different from what you find in other learning modalities. But that doesn’t mean you need to hire a whole new staff. Virtual facilitation can be easily learned by a traditional ILT facilitator, for example. Not all will have the right demeanor for the job, but you probably already have the right person on staff.

Likewise, you may have someone with tech expertise and a troubleshooting mind who would make a good producer. Or a socially adept extrovert who would make a good moderator. So start looking at your own training staff with different eyes. There may be some looking for new responsibilities or to further their resume with virtual training experience. Keep your eye out for further blogs in our Best Practices for Virtual Facilitation series as our experts share the tips and trends driving virtual learning. Or if you’d like to see virtual training in action and learn more about developing a successful virtual training and delivery practice, GP Strategies can help.

About the Authors

Fran Colavita
Fran Colavita is a senior manager at GP Strategies, leading the instructor resource management teams and global associates network, which includes facilitators and producers.

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