How can you improve your virtual experience from a learner’s perspective?

Mar 3, 2021 | virtual events, virtual learning, virtual teams

Written by



Founder #virtualspacehero

Katja Keischnigg

Katja Keischnigg

Content Marketing

Due to the current worldwide #Covid-19 developments many lecturers, educators, event organisers, and all learners needed to move to the virtual classroom within a few days or weeks. This has not been easy for all of us. At this point, we already have some more experience that we would like to share with you. Usually, we focus more on the educator side of things, but today we would like to bring to you the student’s point of view.

This blog article summarises the main points from a #linkedinlive with the #virtualspacehero research team (Evelyn Stele, Katja Keischnigg, Hannah Tappeiner, Nina Wagner and Monika Ivanovic) and Barbara Covarrubias Venegas (Founder #virtualspacehero) on how to self-organise, self-motivate, and structure oneself when learning in the virtual space.

Table of contents

What is self-directed learning, and why is it particularly important in a virtual learning environment?

Generally, it can be described as the ability to learn completely independently and by oneself. This entails developing the skills needed to:

? Identify one´s knowledge gaps and pinpoint what needs to be studied to fill them
? Find reliable sources that provide the desired information
? Set realistic learning goals
? Develop a personal learning strategy to successfully reach them
? Evaluate the learning process afterward to establish what worked well and what needs to be improved for the next time

Self-directed learning seems to be one of the aspects that learners still struggle with in the virtual space. This can be especially problematic since we know from research and experience that a high level of self-directed learning is necessary to succeed while studying online. No educator is physically present to tell the learners what to do, when, or how to do it. They need to find out by themselves how to study best and where to find the needed information.

“I started writing and researching about self-directed learning years ago. It appears that it is an aspect that many are still struggling with when it comes to online learning. As we know, a high level of it is needed in virtual learning. So learners should focus on building their skills in this area .” (Barbara Covarrubias Venegas)

What are tips for learners to improve their online learning experience?

Learning virtually can be a big opportunity for learners. But it is also a responsibility. We are in charge of forming our learning experience and contributing to it. That’s why we want to share with you some #virtualspacehero approved tips, that will help make your online learning experience the best possible.

? Turn on your camera (during lessons and team meetings): We get that this might be uncomfortable, especially at the beginning, when you are not used to it. But it is important to remember that where physical meetings are not possible, this is the only way to see each other’s faces. That is vital for creating trust and engagement in virtual teams. 

“I can understand students that do not want to turn on their camera. At first, I did not feel comfortable using the camera either, because I did not understand the importance of it. After conducting our research, I know that you simply can not study effectively online, without turning on your camera.”. (Hannah Tappeiner)

?Organize and structure your learning day (flexibly ?): Having an overview of lectures, meetings, to-do´s, and deadlines is crucial for splitting your workload effectively. Being realistic when deciding what to do when and staying flexible (where possible) is key here. On the one hand, you do not want to overwhelm yourself with work, but on the other hand, you should not miss the opportunity to take a walk in the sun if the weather suddenly gets nice.

⛔ Set boundaries: When studying and living happens in the same space, the boundaries between them tend to get blurry. Usually, the way to and from university/school serves as some type of barrier. Where this natural boundary between work- and private life ceases to exist, we have to create new ones. This can either be done with set times every day for studying and leisure or physically. (e.g. desk only for university/school work and couch only for relaxing)

?Get in the right mindset for being productive: Individuals do a lot of different things to make sure that their day will be productive. As always, you have to find out what works best for you here. Examples of activities that might help are a light workout or stretch, taking a shower, or simply making your bed. Some people even simulate a way to uni/work by taking a short walk around their neighborhood, for example. 

? Try to stay in close contact with your lecturers and classmates: Asking questions during physical classes is usually easy. Furthermore, you can probably just go to the lecturer’s office before or after class, should you need anything. Of course, this is not possible virtually. So do not be shy to send an Email to your lecturer or a text message to your classmates if you have any questions. Educators have the responsibility here to answer them and to initiate contact if there is no initiative from the learners. 

“Educators need to give the students a sense of importance for their lecture, while also showing them that their personal experience is important. This can happen via Email-reminders about upcoming lectures, the provision of extra information, or small, personal check-ins.” Monika Ivanovic

“One of the main learnings that I took from the research project is how important structure and good organization are when working virtually.  It ensures staying on track with your activities and guarantees that everybody in the team knows what to do when.” (Evelyn Stele)

What tools can be used to structure oneself better in the learning process?

Of course, this topic again depends a lot on personal preference. But our favorite structuring tools are calendars (virtual and physical ones). We love them so much, that we even created a #virtualspacehero one for you, download it here.

But why are calendars so helpful for structuring your learning days?

? You can see all appointments and to do´s of the day in one place: This helps a lot with time management, as you can structure your tasks for the day around lectures and/or team meetings. Invitations for meetings should be sent out a reasonable amount of time ahead, so they can be included in everybody’s planning. Plus, it is just really satisfying to cross done to do´s off the list and see it shrinking. 

If you use the calendars on your phone or PC, you can set yourself reminders that you´ll get a certain amount of time before the meeting or lecture. Forgetting appointments or accidentally setting more meetings at the same time won’t be problems anymore. 

? Possibility to get creative. They can be a great creative outlet. There are many possibilities to customize your online calendar. In case you prefer physical ones, just get a plain planner and get designing and coloring. Looking at all the entries every day will be much easier if you genuinely like the design of your planner. 

How can you motivate yourself to reach the learning objectives?

Motivating oneself to get things done at home can be hard sometimes. Distractions are everywhere, and sometimes it is just too tempting to stay in bed. But there are easy things that will help you stay motivated during your virtual learning journey (additionally to the ones mentioned above).

? Find yourself a study-buddy: Studying with friends or classmates is a great way to motivate each other. Since we are used to studying together in a caffé or at university, we often forget that is also possible in the virtual space. Just decide on a time for a meeting and choose what you are going to study or do in that timeframe. Not everybody has to do the same thing, but telling somebody what you are going to do will give you a feeling of responsibility, and therefore more motivation.

➗ Break down the learning content (“Chunking”): Dividing the workload will decrease the time you have to study at a time. Knowing that you only have to study for a limited amount of time will make it easier to just sit down and start. Furthermore, if divided realistically the workload will not seem as overwhelming.

“What helped me personally to stay motivated during my virtual learning process was breaking down what I had to learn into small portions. That way, I only had to spend a limited amount of time studying every day and did not get overwhelmed.” Katja Keischnigg

? Set yourself realistic goals: Reaching the goals we set ourselves feels good, while not being able to reach them just creates frustration. To keep your motivation level high and your frustration level low, the goals you set yourself should be realistically reachable. Be attentive to not try and fit too much work or studying into one single day. Do not forget that you are only human and not a machine. If for whatever reason you did not get everything done that you wanted to… tomorrow is another day. 

Studying virtually can be a lot. But that’s why we are here to help! ? Go to our website, browse through our blog, and follow us on social media where we regularly post helpful information on how you can make your virtual learning experience the best possible.
Become a #virtualspacehero! ?

? Resources?

Tamara Mladenovic & Barbara Covarrubias Venegas (2020):  How to be mindful and resilient in the virtual space?
Tamara Mladenovic & Barbara Covarrubias Venegas (2020):  How can you shape meaningful interactions in the virtual space?
Tamara Mladenovic & Barbara Covarrubias Venegas (2020): Lost in Connection or not? Trust and belonging in a virtual team


?  If you want to rewatch the LinkedIn live, you can find it on our #virtualspacehero YouTube channel ?

?  Listen to our Podcast on the go ?


Persuasion is the centerpiece of business, training, teaching and event activities. We want to convince customers to buy our company’s products or services, employees and colleagues to go along with a new strategic plan or reorganization, investors to buy (or not to sell) our stock, and engage our learners in our training. But, too often we get lost in boring presentations with too many PowerPoint slides, dry memos, and hyperbolic missives from the corporate communications department (Fryer 2003).

This blog article summarises the main points from a LinkedIn Live with Charles-Louis de Maere (Explorer at Exploration Labs SRL) and Barbara Covarrubias Venegas (Founder #virtualspacehero).

Charles-Louis de Maere

Charles-Louis de Maere

Explorer at Exploration Labs SRL

Table of contents

What is a story or a fairytale? What essential elements do we need to consider? What makes a good story?

A story is the telling of a true or fictional event, in a way that the listener experiences or learns something just by the fact of hearing the story. A story gives information, experience, attitude or a point of view. And like all stories, fairy tales are meant to entertain. Some of them have a good or an evil character, others use dragons or monsters, but not all the stories follow these patterns. Their main purpose is to give morals in a way the audience will remember.

"Fairy tales are more than true: not because they tell us that dragons exist, but because they tell us that dragons can be beaten."  Neil Gaiman

? Think about the context
When picking stories for a workshop, first consider who you are talking to, and what you want to address with them. Once you have this clear, it is important to choose a story that is related to that topic and that people can associate with.

? It is not necessary to reinvent the wheel
Using existing stories is much easier than creating a new one. There are people that have been writing stories for decades and there's loads of wisdom to be learned in their stories. When choosing the story, make sure it is short enough so you can handle it and the story is clear enough for your participants to work on it.

? Consider Cultural Exchange
In our workshops we might find people joining from different parts of the world, and when picking stories or fairy tales there is a cultural element that we also have to be aware of. Stories have to be carefully selected, some of them could convey stereotypes and misconceptions, and depending on your cultural background stories could even have a different meaning. However, if we take a step back and take a deeper intention, there's a shared understanding that can be very interesting when applied in our training. Interact with your audience around the same story and ask them to go through what the story meant for them. Sharing deep thoughts and then analysing how that relates to someone coming from a completely different culture, can be an impactful experience for your workshop!

 “It's an interesting step into inclusion if we start sharing a story, to see how the story resonates with your participants from different cultural backgrounds, to see what they make out of it”.  Charles-Louis de Maere


Beyond Cinderella and Arielle, what fairytales can we use in our training?

If we tell you about The Three Little Pigs or Little Red Riding Hood, you probably have already heard of them, and we can trigger some themes behind these stories. It is easier to talk about topics you want to address through stories (e.g. communication, hierarchy, conflicts…) rather than talking about these different themes directly. You can either make your participants extract a learning concept from your story, or propose one. Here are a few suggestions about stories and themes you could use in your virtual training:

?“The Emperor's New Clothes” - Hans Christian Andersen
Themes that can be discussed:
- Why is it hard for people to tell the truth, and why are we afraid of doing so? What role does hierarchy play?
- Why do people lie to make a good impression on others? Why do people tend to repeat rumours even if these are not true?
- What type of mask do you carry, if you know things aren’t true but you don’t dare to say it? 

? “The Three languages” - The Brothers Grimm 
This story could be used to talk about:
- What is useful learning?
- How do we measure the impact of learning? 

? “The Snail and the Rosebush” - Hans Christian Andersen
Could be great to debate about:
- How do people deal with their own situations?
- Are we aware of the impact we can make with our actions?
- Do we give the best of us? What have you done for your inner development?

How can we learn to tell stories and use fairytales?

When working in the virtual space sometimes we are stuck in keeping our learners engaged, and using stories for this particular learning setting is a great way for having our audience involved with the topic we want to discuss. Charles-Louis de Maere has been using stories for loads of virtual workshops with a tremendous engagement from people all over the world. He believes that stories connect one another because we get through stories to emotions, and we cannot agree more!

? Run it in a space that you trust
If it is the first time you include a story in your training you might say “I am not ready for this”, but you can start with a small group to see how you feel with storytelling and how your learners interact with your stories. There's no need to go with a big group at first!

? Take a story you know, an existing one, and a short one.
Pick a story that you can relate to and “easily” match with the topic you want to deal with during the workshop. The most important thing when using storytelling is to use something that people can relate to. For example, you have noticed that the people you are working with do not always tell the truth, and you want to discuss that usually the reason is because they are scared. Therefore, “The Emperor's New Clothes'' story might be a good fit to present this subject.

? Plan how to work around with the story
Once you have the story chosen, you can then either ask them to read it ahead of the workshop (if the story is long), read it yourself to the group or you can organise a reading session, e.g. in breakout rooms. This depends on how long the story is and what your objectives are.

? Prepare questions and exercises
We want the group to be engaged and participative during the session, and having questions and exercises prepared in advance will help you to interact with them and relate better to the story.

? Ask the right questions. Sometimes as trainers and facilitators, we ask too complex questions. Ask questions where your participants need to take a different perspective than their own. If you are using “The Emperor's New Clothes” for example, some questions you could ask are: “Which character do you feel the closest to?”, “Do you feel you are like the Emperor? Do you consider that you are more like the child of the story, that is always calling out the truth? Or do you relate more to the Minister, who got into a situation where he could not escape?”.

? Make your participants work together. Another good exercise where the learners can connect with each other is to ask them to find the moment of the story where they see the tipping point. You can then propose to them to work out another ending, or a different way of handling that situation.

If you have an online workshop, consider moving attendees into small groups in breakout rooms, or working on a reflection activity by themselves to then pick it up in a debriefing session to relate it to the context. Learn How can we create interaction with breakout rooms in our virtual live sessions?  in this #virtualspacehero blog post.

Why is persuasion so difficult, and what can you do to set people on fire?

Persuasion is about making your argument successful in a confident and knowledgeable way, and this could be difficult when the person you are trying to persuade does not agree with the logic you are using to convince them. If you need to make an argument about a topic about which you feel very passionate about, don’t use rhetoric. Tell a story instead. Sometimes people are using stories only because it is en vogue. However if the story does not share elements with the context and is not related to the topic to be addressed, then there´s no point in using a story. We want our participants to remember both the story and the context! Here are a few suggestions:

? Read more fairy tales
You usually read fairy tales for your enjoyment but you can also  reflect on them. After reading these stories, people usually empathize with them and continue thinking about it for a longer while, which could be a great exercise for you to also discover the topics you want to address in your training.

“Those that are in the learning and development space and are reading for children, for another adult, or are reading simply for their own joy, we see these stories from a totally different angle. There is another light on the fairytales we read.” Barbara Covarrubias Venegas.

? Stories can be inclusive and engaging
The simplicity goes back to the stories. Stories allow us to talk about complex matters, using a simple structure that everyone understands. Once we start using complex words, we all have different understandings of it, but if we put it in a narrative it can create a common understanding. 

? Use your creativity
When we switched to the virtual space, many left behind all the things we were using in a normal training in presence context. Use the whole virtual space that you have: Think about playing with the visuals including objects, pictures, drawings and even sound effects on our virtual training sessions. Read here more about How to use objects/props in your virtual training?

? Let the others discover it on their own
If you tell a story and then tell your audience immediately what the learning points are, what's the point of it? Invite others to put their thoughts and their perspectives and then you can work from there to have a very powerful session.

 “The one who does the talking, does the learning”  Jen York-Barr

? Be open and learn from your sessions
As facilitators and learning designers, it is an advantage to be curious and have the courage of not knowing what is going to happen in your workshops. It is a good opportunity to learn from the discussions, as they can go in a completely different direction than you might have thought. 

? Understand that it can go wrong
Even if you selected a story carefully, it could still not work out, and it is all right as long as we have that conversation and we use that opportunity to discuss it. Stories have been written in a certain different historical context that is not the one we have today, there were some other truths. If you see something is not working, you can always try something else!


WE ARE CURIOUS! What was your favourite fairy tale
Share with us what was your favorite story when you were child or now as an adult! We would love to hear which stories you are thinking of including in your next workshop or training.

? Resources?

Bronwyn Fryer (2003): Storytelling That Moves People, HBR Magazine
Covarrubias Venegas, Barbara (2020): How to use objects/props in your virtual training?
Covarrubias Venegas, Barbara/Keischnigg, Katja (2021): How can we create interaction with breakout rooms in our virtual live sessions? 

?  If you want to rewatch the LinkedIn live, you can find it on our #virtualspacehero YouTube channel ?

?  Listen to our Podcast on the go ?


Whether it’s an online meeting, a presentation via webinar, or live online training, engagement is the main question on everyone’s mind. Will it be worth my time to attend or will it be an opportunity to check email instead? Interaction is the answer to successful engagement and using the features of the platform is the answer to interaction. However, the features alone do not engage the participants. It is what you choose to do with those features that will make the difference in your next virtual training, webinar, or meeting.

This blog article sums up the main points from a LinkedIn Live talk about interaction and engagement Kassy LaBorie (Virtual Classroom Master Trainer | Blog Virtual Hero Trainer Tips) and Barbara Covarrubias Venegas (Founder #virtualspacehero). 

Kassy LaBorie

Kassy LaBorie

Virtual Classroom Master Trainer

Table of contents

What elements should be considered when you plan your virtual training sessions?

Way too often in the virtual space, the focus lies on the task hand, rather than on the people that have to complete it and their surroundings. Some of the aspects that are often forgotten about or ignored but can make a huge difference in the quality of your virtual training will be listed and explained below.

? Have a clear objective. The used activities and interactions should help the participants reach an objective set at the beginning of the planning process. Of course, this objective is different for every session. It might be better teamwork or better knowledge about a certain software or process. Once the objective is set, the activities that will ensure that it will be reached can be chosen.
? Allow the training to be about the participants. Virtual training sessions are about so much more than smiling on camera or sharing your screen and nice slides. They are about getting the participants engaged and helping them to learn what they need to learn. Truly getting people engaged in a virtual training will only work by involving them as much as possible, letting them work by themselves, and asking them questions.? Set expectations about how to be in the virtual space. Many have been thrown into the cold water during the pandemic when it comes to working virtually. Meaning that many have not learned the proper “etiquette” of the virtual space yet.

“The way we were thrown into the virtual space because of the pandemic certainly did not bring out our best behavior. For example, we are used to being muted all the time, and if participants are asked to unmute themselves, you sometimes  can even see them taking calls or talking to someone in the background.” (Barbara Covarrubias Venegas)

Therefore, it is important to communicate certain expectations to the participants before the virtual training. Specifically, the following points should be included:

  • How are the participants expected to set up their environment? 
  • In what way will the communication with the group take place? e.g. verbally (headphones and a working microphone might be needed), or in a written form
  • Technology set-up: e.g. proper audio settings and internet connections, so other participants are not disturbed, etc.
  • General behavior expectations: e.g. no phone calls are to be taken, etc., participants are invited to be active via chat or audio etc..

For example, before the first session of a #virtualspacehero events our participants receive the following mail with instructions. Besides, we often attach a short video explaining the platform so that all participants feel onboarded from a technological point of view.


In #virtualspacehero events you will be engaging in live conversations with real human beings. Expect to be heard and seen throughout. As with any remote meeting, each participant brings part of the meeting space with them. Please help yourself and others by ensuring you:

? Participate from a quiet place.
? Have a stable broadband internet connection. Optimum bandwidth, i.e. internet speed on your side will be at least 10 Mbps download / upload. You can measure it using
? Use a headset.
? Turn your video camera on (if possible!).

To optimise your set-up, follow these suggestions on how to have a great video conferencing setup.  Join on a laptop or desktop. The workshops are immersive and experiential; you will have a better experience if you can interact with a variety of tools easily.

What else do we need? ONLY your positive ENERGY ? and positive vibes ?, which is the most important!


? Let the (adult) participants work and give them enough time to do so. Particularly, when working with adults, there is no need to spell out absolutely everything for them. They will have their opinions, stories, and experiences about most topics, and including them in the training will make it way more interactive and memorable. Also, when working with a new software the participants should actually work with it and not just read instructions from a PowerPoint presentation. Training is there, so what needs to be done in the daily work-life once the training is over can be practiced.  However, this approach takes much longer than the frontal presentation, which needs to be considered when designing the time frame for the training.
? Keep it simple. There are so many great interactive tools that can bring a lot of fun and effectiveness into the training. Despite the vast offer, it has to be remembered that including too many different platforms or tools can just be very overwhelming for participants that are not used to it. Ultimately it might even get in the way of the process or the final goal of the training. The goal is the learning and not the tool!

? Want to know more about how to create Spectacular Live Online Training?

What features are essential to give a trainer the best chance of connecting and creating connections?

“I do not think that it is difficult to connect in the virtual space. I think that people are making it difficult by not paying attention to more than just a lecture and smiling at the camera. The bar in terms of behavior was way too low for way too long. My mission is to raise this bar and have people do better.”  (Kassy LaBorie)

Very often, everybody is expected to be “muted” when they enter a virtual meeting room. Because of that, it is often overseen what a powerful way of creating engagement and connection the mute/unmute button can be. 

? Creating a more participant-centered training approach also means granting them the power to decide for themselves when it is appropriate for them to be muted or unmuted. This, of course, also depends on the size of the group. A group with 200 participants cannot have all microphones on at all times. In a small group, however, this is possible and can contribute to a successful outcome, as people learn while contributing. And inherently people are less active in joining the conversation if they have to be on mute.

Another easy and fun way of creating connections with and between participants are so-called ice-breakers at the beginning of the training or during a break. Three ideas can be found here:

?️ Prepare a slide with 3-5 different pictures (e.g. different animals or flowers) and ask the participants which one of the images describes them or their current situation best and why. Then have everyone turn on their camera and microphone and one after the other answers. In that manner, everyone can get to know each other a little without any performance pressure.

? The above-mentioned exercise also works with asking the participants to take an object from anywhere close to them at that moment. This can also be used to debrief at the end of a session: look for an object and describe how that object relates to one learning/key takeaway.

? Even theoretical knowledge about a website or software can be acquired in a fun way! Prepare theoretical questions that relate to the knowledge that needs to be acquired, as well as some fun ones in between. Then let the participants go to the website or browse the software and find the answers themselves.  They can either do that alone or in small groups. Dividing them into groups can increase the fun and teamwork even more as the “treasure hunt” can be turned into a little competition between the different groups.

? Want to know “How you can create interaction with breakout rooms?"

What techniques can we use to drive engagement, interaction, and learning in our virtual sessions?

There is one simple golden rule in regards to driving engagement: TRANSFORM your in-presence activities to best fit for the virtual space. Conversion is not enough! Here are some starting points that you should consider during your planning process and the facilitation:

? Listen to the participants
? Ask relevant questions
? Participants should be able to feel good on camera (at the beginning or before the meeting give them some tips about camera settings, positioning themselves, etc.)
? Give the participants opportunities to actively participate
? Use all available features as much as possible without overwhelming the participants (e.g. chat, annotation tool, raised hand/green tick function,.....)
? Encourage people to speak and answer instead of you as a trainer saying everything first

“The person doing the talking is often the person doing the learning.” Jen York-Barr

Sometimes it seems like we have already accepted that the same level of interaction and engagement as in real-life training sessions cannot be reached in the virtual space. That is by no means true! Become a #virtualspacehero and learn how to make your virtual training sessions as interactive as possible. ??

? Want to know “How to shape meaningful interactions?"

? Resources?

Covarrubias Venegas, Barbara (2020): How to use objects/props in your virtual training?
Covarrubias Venegas, Barbara/Keischnigg, Katja (2021): How can we create interaction with breakout rooms in our virtual live sessions? 
Abril Canale & Barbara Covarrubias Venegas (2021): How to design online courses to bring learning journeys alive?
Abril Canale & Barbara Covarrubias Venegas (2021): How can we use stories and fairytales in our training

?  If you want to rewatch the LinkedIn live, you can find it on our #virtualspacehero YouTube channel ?

?  Listen to this episode on the go ?

Follow us and join the conversation on your preferred channel!


Become a ? #virtualspacehero

Continue reading our articles

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How to master hybrid meetings?

The day will come when we will again be able to decide freely how and where to hold a meeting. But one thing is already clear: in presence meetings will be much less frequent. Instead, we will get used to mixtures of remote and face-to-face. Read here how to master hybrid meetings.

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