It is tempting, now even more than in the past, to fill a Virtual Training classroom to maximum capacity, to make it Standing Room Only (SRO). After all, if the platform system can handle 100 people (or 500 or 1000), why not take advantage of that? This should, however, be the last thing you do. It will have disastrous results – wasted money and time, as well as increased frustration.
Presenting a workshop virtually is a different experience to be sure than a traditional Instructor Lead Training (ILT) event but the end result needs to remain intact – giving the participants the best and most engaging learning experience possible.
To determine the class size for an ILT event, one of the most important factors is the instructor to participant ratio. Depending on the content and activities, one instructor can comfortably handle 12 – 35 participants. A Virtual ILT (VILT) should never have higher numbers than the corresponding ILT. In fact, it should have less participants.
Virtual participants need more of the instructor’s 1-on-1 attention, not less. When a group of individuals are in the same room, there is a sense of connectedness that helps keep the participants engaged and involved. They begin to act as a unit, supporting each other. The instructor is now dealing with 1 large group rather than individuals and can tailor the experience based on responses, questions, and, never to be ignored, the non-verbal communication the participants are constantly giving.
All of this fades away when presenting VILT. The instructor is now dealing with each individual and there is little if any group cohesion. Without an increase in individual interaction from the instructor, it becomes much easier for the participants to step away (physically and/or mentally).
Each participant is facing a large number of distractions that the instructor has no knowledge of or control over. A (too) large number of participants decreases the amount of individual attention and chance to interact and therefore, these distractions begin to win, more and more. Once a participant has checked out, getting them back is particularly challenging.
A well-constructed workshop will have chances for the participants to ask questions, discuss and debate the information, participate in and debrief activities. All of this takes time. The larger the number of participants, the less new content can be covered, unless the participant interaction is sacrificed. That sacrifice will erode the quality of the learning environment and its overall success.
With each participant added, you start the slow roll from actual Training to Demoing to Lecture. Lecture being the least engaging and effective of all the training methods.
While there is no “One Size Fits All” number for all Virtual Training, there is an ideal number for each one. This requires that each training workshop be reviewed, bringing a number of factors into account to establish the optimal attendance number. Once set, that number needs to be respected.