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Blended virtual instructor-led trainings increase engagement and inclusion

Remote work became the norm for much of the Washington state workforce in 2020. That summer, the Department of Enterprise Services’ leadership development team converted our Leading Others course from in-person to a blended virtual instructor-led training (VILT) with eLearning.

Nine learners shown on a laptop screen conference call.

We initially experienced some of the disadvantages of VILT:

  • Unstable delivery platform and internet connections.
  • Decreased facilitator ability to read nonverbal cues.
  • Learners distracted by technology and disruptions.

A change in platform solved most of our connectivity issues. We also became more familiar with the delivery method and adjusted our activities. Learners acclimated to a new classroom environment.

We learned that blending eLearning with this real-time training often increases benefits for instructors and learners. We’ve seen increased flexibility, access, retention, engagement, and inclusion. Our learners have connected and grown in this blended learning environment.

Flexibility, access, and retention

One of the advantages of VILT is that learners can conveniently join from anywhere they have a device and an internet connection. We’ve welcomed learners:

  • Indoors and outdoors
  • Juggling busy schedules
  • In offices and their homes
  • On job sites, including boats
  • On computers, smart phones, and tablets
  • Reconnecting from a secondary location during a power outage

Sometimes a group will share one device and become their own small group for discussions. Others join from the comfort and accessibility of their regular work environment. They can adjust the settings on their device to their preference and view a live transcript.

The virtual classroom has physical advantages too, such as:

  • Learners can and sit, stand, or move to best meet their needs.
  • Learners can adjust volume levels to meet their needs.
  • It is scent-free, for those with allergies or other sensitivities.

With a decrease in travel time and cost, the VILT schedule can be shorter with more frequent sessions. Some assignments are asynchronous so they can be completed at a learner’s individual pace. Learners can revisit modules when needed to absorb the learning. To convert Leading Others to a VILT format, we broke the three full days of in-person instruction into nine two-hour sessions. These shorter, virtual sessions are now spread out over four days. This live delivery is blended with pre-work, eLearning, and a leadership challenge completed asynchronously.

Doug Staneart of Fearless Presentations notes benefits to keeping instruction time short. It improves learning retention without the added cost of bringing the class together frequently face-to-face. Already in their work environment, learners can often apply relevant content immediately. The learning curve is decreased with a pattern of short sessions, applied practice, and follow-up.


Learners benefit from several VILT engagement tools in our Leading Others course:

  • Facilitated conversations
  • Smaller breakout room discussions
  • Individual reflections
  • Group chats and private messaging
  • Reactions and emojis
  • Whiteboards and Jamboards
  • Stamps and polls

Learners choose methods that best meet their needs without judgment. Simultaneously adding ideas to a Jamboard or in chat maximizes efficiency and increases engagement. Learners take ownership when names appear next to their ideas. Building on the contributions of others increases the connection they feel to the content and each other.


One of our favorite aspects of VILT is when learners join from a space where they can be themselves. They wear what’s comfortable and express themselves openly. We’ve welcomed:

  • Virtual backgrounds displaying art, hobbies, and world travel
  • Pets and emotional support animals
  • Children in need of a hug

These windows into what makes our learners unique increases a sense of community and belonging. In times of stress or when emergencies come up, learners can step away from the training. They take care of themselves without disrupting or distracting the class. Work-life balance and values are prioritized.

In the ATD blog Speaking Up: Cultivating Psychological Safety in Virtual Training, Diana Howles highlights the anonymity of polls, stamps, and whiteboards as a tool to increase psychological safety. Reactions and emojis also provide real-time feedback. They encourage diversity of communication norms. Learners feel supported when others use reactions while they are speaking. Multiple people can affirm without interrupting. It lets them know others feel the same way and they are not alone in their experiences. This interaction breaks up the white dominant culture described by Tema Okun. Many learners have been socialized to listen to respond rather than affirm or relate to others’ experiences. In this way, a simple tool in a VILT becomes one more way we can dismantle systems of oppression.

For more information on VILT benefits for both learners and training providers, see Melanie Hall’s Arlo blog, Virtual instructor led training benefits and tips for success.

Elizabeth Fontanilla and Mike Kohlhorst.

Elizabeth Fontanilla (above left) and Mike Kohlhorst (above right) are learning design and delivery professionals with Workforce Learning and Performance at the Washington State Department of Enterprise Services (DES). They facilitate leadership development courses across the state enterprise. You can reach them at LeadershipDevelopment@des.wa.gov.



We deliver high quality, cost effective support services to state government. DES features expertise in statewide contracting, training, printing & mail operations, human resources and financial systems, facilities management, and care of the state capitol grounds and buildings.

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