How to Keep Virtual Learners Engaged

Posted by Paradigm Learning on June 18, 2021

During the past year, we’ve all come to recognize that virtual training will remain a part of our new norm in the L&D world. We have found success in leading training initiatives virtually. However, many of us have also identified a lack of learner engagement at times as well. Engagement is crucial to learning in online classes and virtual training courses - engagement increases learner satisfaction, enhances participants' motivation to learn, and reduces the sense of isolation for remote workers.  

So, how do you increase engagement in your virtual classroom? The key is making sure that the content and format have been customized for the virtual setting. According to a recent eLearning Industry survey, 77% of L&D professionals think personalized learning is vital to employee engagement. 

Customized training is designed to meet the unique training needs of an employer or group of employers. According to Harvard Business Review, customized training initiatives can be broken down into two practices. The first involves the contextualization of the learning process. The second set is personalization.  

  • Contextualization refers to making sure that the learning is firmly embedded in the strategy and culture of the organization. 
  • Personalization refers to making space for each person involved to pursue learning related to his or her own history, concerns, and aspirations. 

Just like classroom-based training, virtual training has a variety of factors and practices that are integral to creating an engaging learning experience. Check out the areas below to see how contextualizing and personalizing can make an impact on the level of virtual training engagement. 



As with any training, know your audience. Create a personal learning experience for everyone. One of the first steps toward creating valuable material and content is to identify your learners. Break down the audience, analyze, and get to know what motivates them.  

  • What are their capabilities? 
  • What are they lacking in? 
  • What digital or online learning experience works best for them? Asynchronous? Synchronous? Hybrid? 
  • Can they collaborate or teach one another? 
  • Do they prefer to use chat or talk with their cameras on during virtual sessions? 

By having a better understanding of your audience, you can identify areas that can be personally tailored to meet their training needs. If your audience lacks a particular skill or prefers a certain way to communicate, or if you notice individuals not engaging, then make sure you’re calling participants by their names and adjusting your delivery to meet their needs.  

Segment your audience: Implement virtual breakout sessions 

What is a breakout session? A breakout session is sometimes called breakout meetings and are small, planned segments of larger agendas that allow attendees to engage with others and decompress.  

Each group can be specifically designed to work together. These small groups create opportunities for customized content to be delivered and discussed. Utilizing breakout meetings allow participants to personally build relationships as well as create engaging opportunities throughout a virtual session.  


Content and Relevancy 

According to Training Industry, making training content more relevant can benefit the organization, its employees, and its clients. Content relevancy is when the right content enables learners and instructors to be informed correctly in accordance with expected outcomes. By providing relevant and personalized content in your training, you can implement a more engaging experience for learners. Not only can personalized content encourage engagement, but it also creates value and context alignment of an organization’s strategy. According to SHRM, greater engagement with training can increase job performance and decrease employee turnover, thus benefiting the organization. 

How can you make sure your content is relevant?  

After you have analyzed your audience, outlined learning goals, and determined the learning outcomes, then you can perform a topic analysis. 

A topic analysis ushers in the opportunity to work with Subject Matter Experts (SMEs). The SMEs can share their specific knowledge and work with you to analyze and determine the appropriate training tools and content for relevancy.  

To analyze your training topics, you can ask your SMEs the following questions: 

  • What do learners need to know in order to meet the learning objective? 
  • What skills do learners need in order to perform the learning objective? 
  • What are the activities (tasks, exercises, case studies, scenarios) that can help learners understand the content? 
  • What are the most common mistakes people make (related to the topic)? 
  • What are the most common questions people ask (related to the topic)? 
  • What information is considered obligatory? 
  • How will you assess the learners’ knowledge? 


Virtual Delivery Team 

Virtual training has its challenges. It can be tough to keep a virtual audience engaged if you’re not in-person and able to read the audience well. The virtual facilitators and technical producers’ ability to personalize and tailor session deliveries has become an important aspect in maintaining learner engagement. Their roles play a key part in embedding the strategy of an organization within their training as well as personalizing to keep learners engaged. 

The facilitator and producer will need to have a thorough understanding of the organization and its strategies in order to provide effective virtual training to the target audience. The virtual delivery team will also need to know their audiences’ preferences: does the audience prefer to use chat or communicate through their cameras; are they responsive to polls? The virtual delivery team adapts and utilizes interactive features to maintain the audience's engagement. According to ATD, a good producer allows the facilitator to focus on the content and the learner experience while they handle logistics and technical snags. By working in unison, the facilitator can sustain focus and control the pace of the virtual classroom while the producer helps maintain the fluency of the sessions. The delivery team’s partnership is key to keeping content relevant and learners engaged.  


We’ve come to identify that learner engagement is crucial for virtual training. And while contextualization targets an organization’s initiative, keep in mind that personalization focuses on the most important element - fulfilling the individual learner. You can keep learners engaged through a variety of ways, so make sure to check out Tip #1: Design to Engage in our 5 Tips for Balancing Your L&D Mix Infographic! 

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