Making Online Training a Positive Learning Experience

Unsplash photo by Chris Montgomery

The current situation has pushed many trainers and conference organizers to leap into the remote/online arena. Over the past several months, I have had the opportunity to attend many online training events, webinars, and conferences as well as training opportunities specifically designed for trainers and presenters who have not yet taken the plunge. What have I learned? There are a couple of key items that can make your training, presenting, or learning experience more meaningful.  


The first step to ensuring a positive presenting or learning experience is preparing for the online event. Testing your internet connection, access to the remote platform, and functionality of your headphone/speakers, microphone and camera is key to minimizing any glitches on training day. 
Although many of the online conferencing and training tools have browser based access points, some may have limited functionality, I have found that the best presenting or learning experience is achieved by downloading the desktop version of the application prior to the start of the online event.  


A video training or conferencing session is one way in which an onsite learning experience can be simulated when physical proximity is not feasible. It is a great way to be able to engage with participants and collect some of that valuable feedback that helps trainers know when their points were not clear or when they have started loosing the attention of the participants. It also provides for more authentic engagement and networking for learners in a remote environment. However, there are some things to be aware of when enabling your video while providing or receiving online training. 

  • Appearance - We have all seen the silly videos or memes of individuals walking behind a meeting or training participant OR makeshift backdrops that are wrinkled, distracting, or fail to provide proper cover of the items behind the video participant. By now, many of us know to look for a solid wall or properly stretched backdrop that covers the entire area the camera will capture. Additionally, it is always important to make a good impression as prospective collaborators, clients, or bosses may be in attendance. To ensure you are always putting your best foot forward,  ensure that you have good lighting and are adequately dressed and groomed for the occasion. 
  • Etiquette - When participating in an online event, we sometimes get absorbed by the material being presented or get distracted by our environment and forget that our cameras are on and that others can see our eye movements, expressions, gestures, etc. Whether we are the presenter or learner, it is important that we maintain eye contact with the screen/camera and monitor our own image regularly. If you must, remember to not only mute your mic but also turn off your video feed before engaging with someone who is physically in the room. 

Attention & Engagement

Whether you are the presenter or learner, it is important that we understand the 90/20/4 rule for virtual training. As Bob Pike explains it, adults can typically listen with understanding for 90 minutes, but can only listen with retention for 20. During virtual training we are more easily distracted and therefore also require engagement every 4 minutes (Pike, 2016). As presenters, we should prepare events that provide a screen break every 90 minutes or so. We should also follow Pike's advise and break our content into 20 minute chunks and require learner participation in the form of polls, chat engagement, or other physical activity every 4 minutes. 

As participants, we usually cannot control the length of a presentation or how the presentation is ordered or parsed. We can, however, control our engagement. Knowing that we may get distracted about every 4 minutes can help us plan for self-initiated activities that will allow us to stay focused on the presentation and retain more of the content. A couple of tools I have used in the past to stay engaged are note-taking, chatting with participants, and asking questions. 
  • Note-taking - I often use note-taking (electronic, hand-written, or through social media posts) as a tool to jot down key information that I may want to retain for future reference. When using social media posts like Tweets to keep my notes I use hashtags (#) to make it easier to refer back to information I shared pertaining to a particular topic or from a specific presentation. 
  • Chatting - Although not all presenters/platforms allow participants to engage with each other during a presentation, when the feature is enabled it can be a great tool for staying engaged and participating. Sending a quick note to everyone about a thought you had related to the content being presented helps you stay focused and network with fellow participants. You can also comment on the thoughts of other participants. However, a lot of self control and discipline is needed to ensure you do not allow the chat to absorb your attention and distract you from the presentation.
  • Questions - Usually online learning platforms have a method for submitting questions to the presenter. Sending a questions or comment about every 4 minutes during the presentation is another great way to stay engaged. 
For longer presentations, too many chat entries or questions/comments may be overwhelming or unmanageable, using a combination of note-taking, chatting, and questions may be the best way to stay engaged and retain as much of the information as possible. 


Bob Pike (2016). Want Your Training to Survive? Give It CPR. In Training Magazine Network. Retrieved August 18, 2020 from