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 do you even know what to include if you haven’t carefully considered the outcome? Beginning with the result you are looking to achieve and then working backwards from there makes it much easier to both edit and decide on content and design process so that everything is focussed on achieving that result.

2. Brainstorm content

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

If you are converting something that already exists F2F to virtual then you will have some content to begin with. However, don’t rule out replacing certain processes or models with something different that might be more appropriate in the virtual environment. Therefore, really brainstorm what could be included over and above what already exists. This also might be an opportunity to refresh the content anyway.

Even if you are designing from scratch, get creative and think about what do you know that could be useful to help achieve the result you aim for – don’t worry, you won’t be including it all, you are just creating a smorgasbord of stuff to choose from.

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 the output, then don’t use it. There are often other ways of getting content to learners outside of virtual session e.g. you could point them in the direction of a useful video or guide that they could access afterwards or have them read something prior to the workshop so you can then use the time to discuss it during the workshop.

Everything takes a little longer in the virtual environment so also consider how much time you have got. It is worth delivering two workshops that give you the time to explore what you need to without being rushed rather than having everything squashed into one.

4. Workout your gig processes

How will each gig be achieved? What processes, materials, activities will deliver this gig in the most efficient way. Work out timings here too.

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?

Ideally you want variety, but still with purpose. No need to do a breakout if it won’t achieve anything meaningful, for example.

5. Bring your gigs to life

What stories, examples, questions, demos, imagery, science will add appropriate flair to each gig?

This is about the extra flair that makes your content interesting, memorable and fun. You may begin here to investigate stock photos to use, or research some case studies or examples that bring your content to life. Remember — flair and fun can still be achieved alongside purpose 😊

Think sequencing. Double check timings and order. Decide what needs to be said to link each gig to the next gig and the overall purpose.

Look here at the whole flow of your workshop. Is the order right? Does it cover the whys, what’s and hows? What is the link between each section? Where do the recaps need to go in and where are the opportunities to set context?

You may also consider alternative options for different groups or timing issues.

7. Create the introduction

One of the last things to do is to consider how you will kick off the workshop. Remember to start with a bang!

What will go on your welcome slide? How will you grab the attention of the participants as they enter the session to get them thinking and interacting with the tech immediately?

The welcome slide can be an opportunity to begin creating context for the participants and getting them in the zone of the topic at hand.

8. Create the slide & materials

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

This is when you are likely to jump in to PowerPoint — yes — not until stage 8 — not 1! We will talk later about what makes for a good slide deck.


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