As the saying goes, “necessity is the mother of invention.”  With COVID-19 spreading across many countries, safety has becomes the greatest concern of everyone, including for the United Nations Systems Staff College (UNSSC). Safety of staff members, resources persons and participants are of key concern to the management of UNSSC.

In the light of this, UNSSC is exploring a technology to delivering a face-to-face learning experiences in a virtual classroom environment, in case the current travel restrictions become prolonged. We developed two templates for quickly re-designing a face-to-face course for delivery in a virtual classroom. To test the template, we recently conducted a half-day pilot course on “Teamwork”, a face-to-face course re-designed for delivery in a virtual classroom, with 38 UNSSC staff members.


The Virtual Face-to-Face (vF2F) Training Approach

This is not the usual two-hour webinar presentations. This innovative approach seek to replicate a classroom training activities in an online environment, where participants will be able to complete activities designed for face-to-face interaction in a virtual environment, using web-based tools to achieve similar interaction, collaboration, and engagement.

In this innovative synchronous virtual training, two things are important.

- We need to see each other; and,

- we need to see the content being discussed.

To make these happen, we used Zoom virtual classroom differently than how we normally used it in our regular webinar sessions. All participants switched on their webcam and switched zoom into gallery view to see each other faces, thus turning the session into a virtual face-to-face or vF2F. It works.

Then comes the second challenge, we need to see the content. But not just seeing the content.  For meaningful and active learning, participants need to interact with the content, interact with one another, and interact with the instructor. This is where Mural played a key role.

Mural is a visual collaboration and interactive workspace. This web-based tool provides online collaborative real-time post-it or sticky notes that we used to replicate face-to-face activities that require the use of post-it, flip chart, and paper with group exercises in an online environment.

Zoom and mural set up

For a rich virtual learning experience, we set up zoom and mural windows side-by-side.

Face-to-face activities re-designed for online delivery

Classroom activities that require using physical objects or materials are re-designed into case studies or online activities that achieve similar learning objective.


Activities in this vF2F includes dividing participants into breakout rooms in zoom. Each breakout room received a separate link to mural canvases that served as brainstorming and discussion chart board where they organized their thoughts with the use of digital sticky notes similar to how we do it in physical face-to-face training classroom sessions. Each group was brought back to a plenary sessions for discussions and de-breifings.

This innovative virtual training demonstrated how a half-day face-to-face course on “Teamwork” is converted into a half-day virtual course.

This added a new face to UNSSC online learning and training. More courses have been marked for delivery in the coming months should the travel restrictions become prolonged.

Participants’ feedback

-  I really enjoyed how interactive it was and that the level of engagement during breakout sessions mirrored that of in-person trainings.

-  I like the strict timing in the breakout rooms which pressures the team to work towards a deadline without the facilitator having to intervene.

-  In my view, this can be very good for any sorts of meeting during which many different resources need to be discussed and research needs to be done. The immediate access to the internet allows immediate access to information and thus things that are often postponed from "after the meeting" can be done in the meeting. It also allows sharing docs in real-time and working on them in a real-time as well.

-  I liked that most of participants had their cameras on, which created the feeling of F2F training and even though I didn't know anyone, I felt I was able to share my thoughts freely. Training and technical facilitation had a strong positive influence on the whole session.

Looking ahead

Given the success and lessons learnt with this new synchronous virtual face-to-face training approach, more than ten UNSSC face-to-face courses are under consideration for re-designing during this COVID-19 period.

Beyond COVID-19, this new innovative use of web-based tools, Zoom and Mural, opens up endless possibilities and creativity for designing and delivering meaningful and active online learning experience for new generation of learners. It is re-positioning the UNSSC to overcome some of the challenges of distance learning and training, and meet the needs of today’s distance learners.  This approach will see some of our existing online courses re-designed with mural activities build into the weekly two-hour webinars for a more engaging, participatory, collaborating and interactive learning experience.

The opinions expressed in our blog posts are solely those of the authors. They do not reflect the opinions or views of UNSSC, the United Nations or its members.