Virtual classrooms—live, online instruction delivered to remote audiences by flesh-and-blood facilitators—have been around for years, and their use continues to grow. The tools have become more sophisticated, but for many instructors whose experience has mainly been in physical classrooms, being effective and engaging in the virtual space is a daunting challenge.
Darlene Christopher has written The Successful Virtual Classroom: How to Design and Facilitate Interactive and Engaging Live Online Learning for new and experienced trainers alike, to guide them to delivery of instruction at a distance that is every bit as effective as it would be in the classroom. Based on her 10 years of experience in the virtual classroom, she has put together her PREP model, a solid foundation for success.
The PREP model
The Successful Virtual Classroom guides the reader through planning, rehearsing, executing, and conducting a post-session review (PREP). Christopher does this in a way that provides mastery of the mechanics and that shows how to use the potential of technology to teach and inspire learners. Rather than rely only on her own experience and anecdotal evidence, or on assumptions and misconceptions about virtual learning, she bases her approach on research into what actually works.
Within each section of the book, Christopher provides field-tested tools, tips, and techniques to ensure learner value and engagement. She includes checklists, worksheets, templates, exercises, and expert tips that will speed the work of the designer, the facilitator, and the event producer. These are supported by numerous photos, screenshots, and examples, as well as case studies. For the facilitator who is totally new to the virtual classroom, there are many definitions and explanations that will dispel any mystery around the sometimes opaque terminology associated with online delivery and technology.
Beyond the model
One of the key benefits of The Successful Virtual Classroom is the amount of attention that Christopher gives to instructor preparation, rehearsal, and support. Our experience in The eLearning Guild, after 14 years of producing virtual classroom events, has shown us that these details make or break the success of online instruction.
In addition to these vital elements, Christopher has included chapters that she calls “fine-tuning”—content that should be in any book on teaching in the virtual classroom, but that is left out of nearly all of them, and that no other book covers as completely. These chapters include:
- Working with Global Participants
- Ideas for Icebreakers and Exercises
- Additional Uses for the Virtual Classroom
- Feature List to Consider When Selecting a Virtual Classroom Tool
- Course Conversion (from physical classroom to virtual)
- Webcam tips
All virtual classroom facilitators need this book!
Considering the completeness of the content and the quality of the support materials included in The Successful Virtual Classroom, I would have to say that this is one of those books that will get used until the covers fall off. Readers will learn from it when they are new to online facilitation and they will continue to refer to it as they produce each new program. It will find a role in development plans and in instructor training. On the whole, it is a $39.95 investment that will pay dividends for years.
Christopher, Darlene. The Successful Virtual Classroom: How to Design and Facilitate Interactive and Engaging Live Online Learning. New York: AMACOM, 2014.