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Four Lessons Learned for Virtual L&D Success in 2021

2020 was a tumultuous year, and with tumultuous times comes great learning.

Like FDR said, “A smooth sea never made a skilled sailor”. Throughout 2020 Insight Experience delivered programs for 20 participants and 120 participants, over 5 weeks or over 5 hours. We designed for a myriad of learning objectives, audiences, and calendar constraints all of which were rich learning experiences about designing a leadership development program delivered virtually. Some of our team’s richest learning came as a result of delivering global leadership programs. Here are four big takeaways from global delivery in 2020:

Consistent Communication is Key

Our hypothesis in early 2020: For multiweek programs, logistical communications are critical to driving engagement over the entirety of a course and over-communication will turn folks away from the program or drive them to “tune-out” and miss key messages.

What we found:

  • Two emails per week for multiweek programs seemed to be the optimal level of driving engagement without burdening our participants’ inboxes. Sending all communications from a monitored email address allowed for quick answers to real-time questions enhancing the participant experience.
  • Set and maintain a communication cadence. This allows participants know when to expect communications AND know where to look for a message if they have missed it.
  • Use one technology platform as the main program or “headquarters”. This helps participants know where they can go to self-serve on their questions and to complete course content.

New Best Practice: Weekly preview and weekly wrap up emails, each with a link to the main course site, proved to be an effective way to drive engagement and keep participants actively checking the course “headquarters”.

It’s all about the Timing

Our hypothesis in early 2020: When running a global program, communicate time in GMT to create a standard way to discuss time globally.

What we found:

  • Communicating exclusively in GMT created an extra step for participants to translate to their local time zone which ultimately created confusion about when events were happening. This process also created an opportunity for folks to overlook the GMT time zone when reviewing the agenda.
  • Beware of Daylight savings time! Daylight savings time is handled differently around the world. Being aware of when daylight savings will occur during your program and what will happen to the local time in each region you are delivering is a critical consideration when planning live events.

New Best Practice: Provide program timing in local time zones. If running a program throughout APAC, for example, create a time converter table depicting what time an event will happen in Tokyo, Sydney, and Bangladesh local time. Additionally, consider sending invites for individual modules of the program rather than blocking the day. This ensures participants log into events on time. This participant focus will limit time zone related confusion.

“Zoom Fatigue” is Manageable

Our hypothesis in early 2020: 5 hours a day on virtual training would be overwhelming and draining for participants and facilitators alike.

What we found:

  • Virtual 4-5-hour days elapse quickly. Learners are able to dedicate half a day to the virtual program and then return to the job and immediately implement the skills they learned.
  • Full 8-hour days delivered virtually may seem daunting, but with appropriate breaks and mealtimes, full day programs can be successful. Full day programs allow participants to clear their schedules and dedicate their full attention to the learning objectives of the program.
  • 5-minute breaks are not sufficient in a virtual world. 10-15-minute breaks are optimal for learners and facilitators to be able to grab coffee or use the restroom between program components.

New Best Practice: Since virtual leadership development is not physically pulling leaders away from their work, programs can be designed to meet the calendar constraints of the given population. Half-days over the course of a week, one day a week throughout a month, full consecutive days, or any combination in-between can all be equally effective based on the learning objectives and appetite of the target audience.

Experiential Learning is Still on Top

Our hypothesis in early 2020: Business simulations could be ported to a virtual structure without significant loss in learning impact.

What we found:

  • Business simulations actually make virtual leadership development better! Business simulations, delivered virtually or in-person, create a shared challenge for participants to learn by doing and to practice putting theory into action in a way that can be fun and competitive.
  • Simulations create an interactive, engaging activity that is unique from presentations and breakout discussions.
  • A major benefit of leadership development programs is the ability to network with other leaders across the firm. In a virtual setting this is more challenging, but still possible. Simulation teams are able to build strong relationships throughout a multi-round simulation experience and many teams we worked with this year have kept in contact after the program by setting up quarterly check in meetings.

New Best Practice: Leverage the virtual delivery platform to maximize the impact and complementarity of different program components. Business simulations are powerful experiential learning tools that can reinforce learning and when done virtually, allow for more geographically diverse simulation teams, better facilitating global connections. Virtually delivery also presents the opportunity to use collaboration software to further peer interaction, story sharing, and learning. It remains imperative to support leaders and provide a safe space to learn and grow.


In 2020, participants from around the world have found the combination of content and business simulations to be powerful learning opportunities. Some of our favorite quotes:

“I could really relate to the speed, volume of data, interruptions and people management aspects. The simulation was balanced from that perspective and mirrored our day-to-day work environment closely.”

“I have done sims before that had no relevance to our roles today. I appreciated that the challenge was relevant (seemed like something we could actually be challenged with), the components (documents provided, PR, legislature etc.) and people (peers, directs, boss) were realistic.”


At Insight Experience we look forward to the rich learning ahead in 2021!