Cindy Huggett advises eLearning practitioners on choosing and using virtual classroom technology. She is the author of The Virtual Training Guidebook: How to Design, Deliver, and Implement Live Online Learning. Her next book, due out in the summer, will discuss designing and facilitating engaging virtual-classroom training. Huggett is a frequent presenter at eLearning Guild events. We spoke in January about converting in-person training to successful eLearning. The interview has been edited for length and clarity.

Pam Hogle (PH): Many of our readers are new to eLearning and might be moving from face-to-face to eLearning. You’ve done a lot of work around that transition, helping people do it successfully. What are the first or most critical steps an instructional designer or instructor needs to take?

Cindy Huggett (CH): It’s so much more common to convert a classroom program to online than it is to start from scratch, so it’s a great question. It is a common question, and my answer is a little bit untraditional or perhaps not what you would expect.

I believe the very first step is to remember everything that you already know about what makes really good training. I think that people, organizations, trainers, designers think, ‘OK, I’ve got to design for this new modality, so what’s the first step? … What’s the process to follow?’

The very first process to follow is the one you already know. Design is design. Adult attention spans are adult attention spans. Adult learners are adult learners. You’re still trying to meet a business need, solve a business problem, get results; it just so happens that technology can help you reach an audience that maybe you didn’t reach before. It’s a different type of modality. That’s really step number one: remember everything you know about good design and adult learners.

Once you remember that—I’m going to talk specifically about the virtual classroom, live, online synchronous, facilitator-led—the next step is to start asking yourself: What of this belongs in that online classroom? Of all the content I have, of the eight-hour program, or the three-week program, or whatever length of time it is—what needs to be done with a facilitator versus what of this can they do on their own? What can they read? What can they watch? How do I chunk this program into segments, into components that make the most sense for learning? That’s really the next step; step back and look at your big-picture design from the lens of, ‘I already know what makes good training; I already know what makes a good learning experience.’

Think about, ‘How can I leverage the technology?’ Not: An eight-hour classroom program means an eight-hour online program. It doesn’t translate that way.

What can they just read? So that, when we come together, with the facilitator and other learners, we need to talk about it or we need to practice or we need to do hands on. That’s where you’re going to get the best value and the best benefit from it.

The question then always comes up: ‘But my learners don’t do stuff on their own. What do you mean, have them read it and then show up?’

Well, you always start with an in-person component. … Session one is: What we are going to do; what’s the program? What are you expected to do? Here’s the platform. And then you make an assignment. So, think of it a different way.