Step by step design process for the virtual classroom

Image showing tips of pencils to demonstrate design process message.

We know that just lifting a slide-deck from a face-to-face workshop and presenting it in a virtual classroom just doesn’t deliver the results.  So where do you start with the design process and building your virtual classroom.

8 step design process for building a virtual workshop or classroom

This works with face-to-face design too but the steps are even more important in producing virtual workshops. 


Virtual workshops are bitesize in nature so choosing the right content to make the time work best is critical.  Also, we have to fight more for attention in a virtual setting so ensuring every second counts is super important.

1. Start with the end in mind

Think purpose, purpose, purpose. What do you want participants to think, feel, do or know a result of this workshop.

A mistake designers often make is opening PowerPoint and thinking, “Okay, slide 1 mmm…” How will you know what to include if you haven’t carefully considered the desired outcome?

Beginning with the result you are looking to achieve and then working backwards from there makes it much easier to make both content and design process decisions.

So think more about ‘what they need to know’ not ‘what do I want to say.’

2. Brainstorm content

Start with generating as many ideas as possible around the workshop topic. We recommend starting with a blank canvas rather than taking something you already have and trying to shoehorn it into a virtual workshop.

Consider what are the key messages you want participants to take away? What skills, models, processes might be included?

Next, put each ‘gig’ on a separate post-it . What’s a ‘gig’ you ask? Well, everything that goes on a post-it, we call a gig – this can be an idea, process, model, story, etc

It’s important that you get as many ‘gigs’ as possible – more than you could ever put into a workshop, so you can be selective later on about what to include.

3. Decide on your gigs

A gig is a chunk of content, learning or process.  Edit, be ruthless. Decide on what must stay in, what can stay out. What can be explored in ways beyond the virtual workshop (pre-work, referencing etc).

Remember the purpose of your workshop. If there is any content or process that doesn’t move your learners towards this objective, then don’t use it.

Sometimes, you might have too many relevant ideas to include in one workshop. But there are often other ways of getting content to learners outside of a workshop e.g. pre-work/flipped classroom, additional references, learning nudges, further workshops… some of these this could be ‘required’ or ‘desired’.

4. Workout how to deliver your gigs

Decide how you will deliver your workshop content – what activities will you use to achieve learning transfer, create engagement, etc.

For example, you have decided to explore a particular ‘model’ in your virtual workshop — how will you do this? Will you explain and then create a discussion instigated in chat? Will you put people into breakout groups? Will you have them complete posters? Are any extra resources needed?

Put all these delivery processes on new post-it notes. Ideally you want variety, but still with purpose. For example, there’s no need to do a breakout if it won’t achieve your think/feel/do outcomes.

5. Bring it to life

Think about where you can add extra flair to make your content interesting, memorable and fun. Put all your ideas on new post-it notes and get creative! Consider stories, videos, demos and imagery – anything that really brings your content to life!

6. Make it stick

Consider how you will achieve long lasting learning transfer.

Key to this is how you’ll support participants to turn what they’ve learned in the workshop into action e.g. breakout group, action planning template, or a facilitated conversation.

7. Sequence your workshop

Now you need to make clear links between your content and the overall purpose.

Use the post-its/’gigs’ to order your content and establish where the links are required and how you will successfully tie the content together.

Then double check the flow of your workshop. Is the order right? Have you covered the whys, what’s and hows? Where do the recaps need to go in and where are the opportunities to set context?

8. Create learning materials

Finally, pull everything together in a seamless, flowing, simple to follow slide deck with accompanying materials.

This is when you are likely to jump into PowerPoint — yes — not until stage 8 — not 1!


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