Training Industry

When to Consider Virtual instruction (and When Not To)

  • When to Consider Virtual instruction (and When Not To)

As the author of a book on virtual instruction, “Virtual Presentations that Work” 1, I have an obvious bias. Having said that, though, I am a pragmatist. There are going to be times when virtual training would not be the best way to go. There are definitely circumstances that call for the tried-and-true technique of in-person training. Here is a breakdown of times when you should consider virtual instruction, and times when you should not.

Strongly consider virtual training when you:

Need to train more than 25 people at the same time. There is only so much space in a conference room. Whenever you need to send a message to the entire floor or the entire company, your best bet is to go virtual.

Need to reach people far away (cheaply). If it’s in your company’s best interest to keep the travel budget low, then virtual instruction can get your message across while saving a fortune in airfare. Virtual training will enable you to reach a larger and more dispersed audiences than you may not have been able to reasonably accommodate in the past.

Have serious stage fright. Some people are excellent communicators in certain settings, but deathly afraid of being in the spotlight. They are great on the phone, but not so good in person. For them, presenting training virtually may be an ideal solution.

Require the more advanced capabilities of virtual instruction. You should consider training virtually if it would be beneficial to archive your session for viewing by those who were not able to attend in person. A virtual class may also benefit your organization by establishing and maintaining a cohesive group of participants (e.g., a community of practice) who stay in touch after your training.

Avoid considering virtual instruction when you:

Have bad news to deliver. If your training is about something that is deeply emotional, such as following a series of layoffs, then your message needs to be delivered in person.

Need to establish trust. A crucial objective of many training sessions is to establish trust. Establishing trust requires engaging many of the attendees’ senses. Visual cues and social presence are critical to building trust. These two elements are usually missing from virtual training.

Need to change attitudes. Conducting instruction to change people’s attitudes is difficult to pull off in person and nearly impossible in a virtual environment. As with building trust, visual cues and social presence are critical. To succeed, such training must create an environment that is intimate, open, and accepting. After all, you might have to question people’s current attitudes before you can convince them of the need for change. You may attempt such a feat virtually with an audience of people who are already familiar with one another and are committed to the tasks at hand, but even then, you need to tread carefully.

I hope that you find these ideas useful. I would enjoy hearing from you. Please contact me using the “Contact Us” tab on my website


1. Gendelman, Joel, Ed.D. (2010) Virtual Presentations That Work. New York: McGraw-Hill.

About the Author

Joel Gendelman

Dr. Joel Gendelman has over 25 years of experience developing activity-rich communications and training for the finest organizations in the world (e.g., Lockheed Martin, Microsoft, Nissan, Hewlett-Packard, Amgen, and Genentech. He serves on editorial boards of major professional publications and holds positions on the boards of prestigious professional societies. Joel is the recipient of numerous industry and professional awards, is a sought after speaker at international conferences and corporate events, and has published over 50 articles three books distributed worldwide by respected publishing houses.

Joel provides curriculum development, consulting services, and workshops. He can contacted at Future Technologies. To see more about his books "Virtual Presentations that Work" and "Consulting Basics",  please view his Author Page. Follow me on Twitter @JGend.

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