How To Create Live Virtual Courses Your Learners Will Love

January 4, 2021 | Activate Learning | 7 min read

Three years ago, I flew overseas for a one-week leadership course, where I got to learn alongside Hitachi colleagues from across the globe. I called it The Switzerland Class. Our instructor was a renowned hostage negotiator who parlayed his career into a leadership program about navigating … well … tough conversations.

But surprisingly, neither the teacher nor his curriculum provided us with the most memorable learnings. It was, in fact, good old-fashioned conversations with my classmates.

I remember being paired into groups to solve hypothetical problems through role-playing. But my partner and I developed such a natural rapport, we switched gears and discussed a real challenge he was trying to solve at Hitachi. Our little group’s living, breathing knowledge exchange continued throughout the week. We traded personal and professional stories and compared notes on classroom learnings—all while indulging in delicious Swiss cuisine.

And, three years later, we still connect (virtually, for now) to catch up, support each other, and trade ideas on how to help our learners succeed.

Today, I run a learning and development program that enables Hitachi’s customers to use and maximize benefits from our products. It’s an awesome job that allows me to support the growth of our customers and employees alike. Drawing inspiration from my time in Switzerland, I’ve always placed great value in ensuring our blended learning formula has a strong, in-person component.

Then COVID-19 forced us to rethink how we’d do that.

Like many organizations, our pandemic-era game plan involved a serious pivot to digital. Learning formats such as on-demand, self-paced, and bite-sized all played important roles. However, as we found ways to evolve, we knew that some things couldn’t—and for that matter, shouldn’t—change, like irreplaceable human interaction.

But what can you do when a pandemic removes in-person learning from the equation? Should we in the learning and development industry simply take everything in our curriculum and reformat it into virtual instructor-led courses? Not so fast.

As someone who searches for, vets, and custom-picks the highest-quality learning resources for my company’s customers, I can tell you this:

  • Live learning is only most effective when you use it at the optimal times and is placed in your learners’ overall journeys.
  • There are certain things you must consider to ensure that all parties involved—from your instructors to your learners—are positioned to succeed.

So, without further ado, here are five ways to create live courses your learners will love.

1. Give your learners the freedom to engage

When is the right time to offer live learning? When your learners will gain value and fresh perspectives from being in each other’s company. Consider the power of a simple question—not only the one you ask, but the question someone else asks that the rest of you hadn’t thought of. I saw these improvised moments happen in Switzerland; they can take a course in a new, thought-provoking direction.

At Hitachi Vantara, we’ve rolled out some live learning formats with specific use cases that call for engagement around:

  • Virtual instructor-led training that encourages learners to interact and participate in polls
  • Virtual break-out sessions where participants can brainstorm with peers or apply learnings to real-world challenges
  • Virtual role-playing exercises that enable learners to engage in teamwork and learn from each other’s diverse backgrounds
  • Virtual sandboxes that provide a safe space where learners can experiment together

2. Help your instructors reskill for virtual formats

I read a recent survey by Brandon Hall Group revealing that 49% of learning and development professionals believe reskilling their organizations’ in-person instructors for virtual environments ranks among their biggest challenges.* Luckily, organizations can do a lot to help their instructors succeed in this relatively new pandemic-era dynamic. Here are a few things you can encourage your instructors to do:

  • Engage in self-paced, online courses to develop dynamic skills for presenting to live audiences.
  • Learn how to master your company’s virtual collaboration and meeting tools–even the little things like muting and unmuting participants can make a big difference in the learner’s experience.
  • Take a course on a topic outside of their expertise to put themselves in the learners’ shoes.

3. Establish a knowledge baseline among learners

Before you host a live course, make sure all of your registered learners have taken prerequisite courses. Otherwise, less-experienced students could jeopardize the group’s time with entry-level questions, or simply disengage when they realize they’re far behind their peers.

So, here’s the challenge: how do you encourage students to take the prerequisites? Some organizations attempt to enforce it by kicking students off the class roster. But I say, let’s incentivize them.

When I was in Switzerland, I would make a daily three-mile walk from my hotel to Starbucks, even in frigid Swiss winter temperatures. Why? Not for their Venti Latte; I could get that anywhere. I did it for two reasons: one, I collect mugs, and two, I love earning points. There’s something loyalty-inspiring about being able to gain credits, level up, and redeem an ultimate prize. We can apply that same psychological effect to encouraging students to complete prerequisites. In this case, the prize is a digital badge that learners can show to their managers, peers, and networks.

4. Plan your courses to sustain value from human interaction

More than half (61%) of learning and development professionals told Brandon Hall Group that replacing in-person training content was their biggest challenge.* Why? I believe it’s because learners—and the leaders who championlearning—are, by nature, social animals. When you’re in a forum that enables questions, answers, and camaraderie, well, that’s what elevates an experience to the rank of memorable.

But how can you plan your live learning experiences so the value of human interaction continues beyond the course? Recurring office hour sessions and community groups enable learners to come together to trade insights, ask questions, be there for one another, and keep those social animal characteristics satisfied.

5. Consider how live courses fit into your blended learning strategy

Remember, learning should be easy and flexible whenever possible. This is especially true in the pandemic era, as learners continue to struggle with balancing life and work. Live courses and the engagement they provide are a perfect fit in certain scenarios. But in many cases, you’ll want to choose other options from your blended learning toolbox, from on-demand videos to comprehensive learning paths.

For our customers at Hitachi Vantara, we tailor their blended learning options to fit employees’ job responsibilities, the Hitachi products they use, and the challenges they address daily. In addition to delivering the value of human interaction, we place great importance on giving learners the flexibility to learn on their terms: how, where, and when, on a self-paced basis, and in bite-sized, consumable pieces.

Final thoughts

It’s going to take a while before we return back to pre-pandemic life. However, our new normal doesn’t need to define us. We’re lucky enough to have technology that enables us to connect with each other, listen, laugh, and help each other out with good old-fashioned conversation. By putting the proper time, planning, and creativity in your live learning sessions, you’ll be giving your learners experiences that are not only good for their jobs and careers, but likewise good for the soul. That’s how live learning transcends the goal of being valuable to become memorable and sustainable.


Tracy Peterson, Vice President, Global Learning at Hitachi Vantara

Tracy Peterson is the Vice President of Global Learning for Hitachi Vantara, where she’s responsible for the company’s Education Services business, focusing on driving customer adoption and engagement. She is an expert in the business of learning and has led award-winning training programs for Hitachi, ADP, HP, and SAP Concur. Her passion project outside of her day job is helping the women of today and the women of tomorrow build their personal foundations for success.

Tracy lives in Saint George, Utah, the northern-most tip of the Mojave Desert. Her favorite hobby is immersing herself in cultures around the world. Since she can't do that right now, she is taking suggestions for new hobbies!

She was not compensated in any way for her participation in this blog post.

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