5 Tips for Managing Virtual Breakout Rooms

Sam Thompson
Updated July 8 2021
Sam Thompson
Updated July 8 2021

Many of us have become very familiar with virtual classrooms and virtual breakout rooms. As teachers, trainers, learners, and workers moved online, everyone worked quickly to get up to speed with what we thought were going to be temporary solutions. 


But hybrid work and hybrid education are here to stay, meaning virtual training and learning will be permanent. A lesson learned from our mandatory work-from-home experiment is that the WFH boogeyman isn’t as scary as we thought it may be. 


In fact, workers can be more productive at home—a recent study shows that productivity has been lifted by 5% in the U.S. Similar advantages exist in the education realm, where hybrid or virtual learning offers students flexibility to engage in the learning modalities that work best for them. 


Now that we’ve acknowledged that things have changed, it’s time to investigate how we can improve virtual classroom delivery and the execution of virtual breakout rooms. 


Using Virtual Breakout Rooms to Cultivate Engagement and Collaboration  

Perhaps one of the toughest challenges we face as trainers, leaders, and educators in the virtual classroom environment is in providing meaningful opportunities for learner engagement and collaboration.  


These include activities like team building exercises, intimate discussions, group work, and brainstorming, which are relatively simple to execute in an in-person setting. Virtual breakout rooms offer the same simplicity in an online setting. They provide opportunities for learners to engage with one another to accomplish a specific activity.   


By now most of us have come across virtual breakout rooms. They are the virtual equivalent of telling a group of learners to break-out into smaller groups to discuss a specific topic or work on a set activity. They’re now a key feature in all major virtual classroom and meeting platforms like Zoom, Microsoft Teams, Google Meet, and Kaltura Virtual Classroom.  


Virtual breakout rooms are great, but they can get messy if you’re not prepared. Here’s how they usually go: 

  • A facilitator plans to divide up the learners at random to work in smaller groups on…something. 
  • Learners are told they are about to be split up into breakout sessions and that they’ll need to bring materials with them from the virtual classroom, such as the presentation.  
  • A facilitator will ask the group to open a presentation they sent before class. At that point, a quarter of the learners will inevitably not have seen that email and say they never received the file. 
  • The facilitator will have to pause—cutting into session time—to resend the file(s). 

You get it. 


Educators need to be able to provide directed virtual breakout room activities. Just as educators prepare their virtual classroom for upcoming training by uploading their files, organizing their video playlists, and customizing their room for their specific class type, they also need to prepare their breakout rooms. Preparing virtual breakout rooms for directed activities means that you make the most of your teaching time—it’s efficient and effective.  


So, let’s look at some of the ways you can run virtual breakout rooms with purpose and how you can provide directed breakout activities. 


How to Prepare and Run Virtual Breakout Rooms

  1. Upload breakout room files ahead of time. Virtual classroom tools often have file management systems dedicated to each classroom. Many also provide ways for facilitators to upload files to be available to all learners automatically when they get to their breakout rooms. Instead of relying on learners to come prepared, facilitators can be sure that every learner has the content they need to accomplish their breakout room goals.
  2. Configure breakout room assignments. Set up the number of breakout rooms you need ahead of time. If you are randomly assigning learners in their rooms, then set the assignment up before your session. You can even upload lists of users to assign them to virtual breakout rooms automatically or give learners the option to choose their own breakout room. 
  3. Define what tools are availableVirtual classrooms have a lot of features and most of those features are available in virtual breakout rooms. Too many options can leave some learners lost and distracted. Configure your breakout room permissions to turn specific features on or off—like an interactive whiteboard, screen sharing, or recording—so that learners can do what they’re supposed to do without getting lost with too many options.
  4. Keep learners in their breakout rooms on track. When learners are placed in their breakout rooms, they can run the show. That doesn’t mean that facilitators don’t have any say. Periodically join different breakout rooms to see how folks are getting along. If you want to direct them to a specific piece of content, then utilize tools to broadcast shared content and play it automatically in all breakout rooms with a click of a button (available in Kaltura Virtual Classroom).
  5. Set time for debriefing the breakout sessions. Meaningful discussions and work have just taken place. Leverage that by encouraging breakout room representatives to present their work. Learners’ work from the virtual breakout rooms is automatically available for facilitators to share or assist in presenting in the main virtual classroom. If the breakout activity was a debate or role-playing activity like support training or sales objections, then those breakout sessions could be recorded, and the recordings could be shared for feedback and review in that very same virtual classroom.  

Incorporating Virtual Breakout Rooms into Your Lesson and Meeting Plans

Breakout rooms aren’t just opportunities for learners to meet face-to-face. That’s certainly part of it, but what we’re really trying to do is to extend the classroom and encourage learners to take active roles in their learning.   


Virtual breakout rooms are a place where learners can apply the class material, workshop it, and try things out. By utilizing rich breakout room features in your virtual classroom solution, you can set the stage for more meaningful and successful learner outcomes.