Even if you haven’t worked much with virtual classrooms yet, you can be sure that they will be an integral part of your corporate training experience for the foreseeable future. To a certain extent, almost every aspect of our work lives has gone virtual, and training is no exception. With this in mind, read on to find out all you need to know about virtual classrooms.
What is it?
A virtual classroom is an online space in which learners can attend training delivered by remote instructors. Online video conferencing platforms are used to organize and conduct virtual training, facilitating engagement between the learners, the trainers and the material. Virtual classrooms provide a controlled environment while helping to make the learning experience interactive and engaging. Using virtual classroom platforms, instructors can do the following:
- Share and display learning materials, including slides, multimedia files and other documents
- Use screen-sharing and virtual whiteboard functions to enhance the learning experience
- Divide the class into virtual breakout rooms
- Record sessions
- Moderate learner participation
As long as participants have a connected device and a decent internet connection, they can take part in virtual classroom platforms. The platforms themselves are designed for easy and intuitive use without much prior instruction, if any. The idea is to join the class and start learning without either the student or the trainer having to worry about the technical aspects of the class, which a dedicated producer can handle to ensure that the training runs without a hitch.
What are the advantages of virtual classrooms?
Virtual classrooms are designed to be user-friendly, and bring the following advantages for those organizing and conducting virtual training programs, as well as those who attend them:
- Convenient: There is no need to book and prepare a training venue or worry about collateral costs and arrangements like printed training materials or catering. All participants can just open their laptops and join in from wherever they are.
- Wider geographic audience: Online corporate learning platforms open training sessions up to participants anywhere in the world. Distance and borders don’t matter.
- No travel costs: Participants get to cut their travel costs. Forget about traffic or train and bus schedules. Of course, this also means that nobody has an excuse to be late!
- Easy to capture training by recording sessions: Participants can simply record the training sessions for later reference, which means that learners can come back any time they want to revise concepts they are not clear about, or pick up something they missed.
What are the possible cons of virtual learning?
Remote learning does offer a few potential challenges, but these can be overcome fairly easily once everyone has adjusted to the new way of working. These challenges include:
- It can be harder to keep participants engaged: As everyone is sitting in their own space, trying to engage through a screen, it is very easy for them to lose focus. One of the benefits of in-person training is that the instructor can engage learners directly if they start to notice that the energy is dropping. This is not as easy with virtual training.
- Need to reformat learning: Virtual training requires everyone to adapt to a new way of sharing information and engaging with one another. This means that instructors can’t just transfer their in-person teaching methods to the online platform. For example, the problem of keeping learners engaged could be tackled through more frequent requests for feedback and discussion, or by breaking the sessions up into shorter periods with more frequent breaks.
- Difficult for facilitators to deliver both learning and platform support: If facilitators have to handle both the learning material and the technical aspects of the virtual classroom platforms, there are likely to be a lot of delays and breakdowns. Instructors can get around this by working with a virtual producer. Virtual producers can manage all the technical aspects, freeing the trainer up to focus on delivering the learning material and interacting with learners.
There are many different virtual classroom platforms to choose from. Zoom, Webex, Google, Connect, GoTo Training, Blue Jeans and MS Teams are just some of the options – and software developers will likely release even more over time. Webex has already diversified its offering with two separate products – one for meetings and one designed specifically for training. Many people have already been using some of these platforms in their business or private lives – especially Zoom and MS Teams, for example, and this makes it that much easier to get participants on board.
Although all of these platforms are essentially designed to do more or less the same thing, they each offer a slightly different set of tools. Some are better for breakout sessions, for example, while others have great video/audio sharing functionality. Once you explain your needs to a virtual classroom producer, they will be able to help you choose the best option for your classes.
Considerations for facilitators delivering virtual
As you adapt your approach to virtual training, there are four main points you should keep in mind:
- Engagement: Keeping your trainees’ attention long enough to get the information across is probably the biggest challenge you will face. Thankfully, you can get around this by modifying your teaching style a little. Keep people engaged through discussions, frequent questions and requests for feedback, and by breaking your course up into smaller pieces. You may need to take more breaks than you normally would.
- Minimizing distractions: When you bring a learning group together in a training room, you have a fair amount of control over the environment, and you can ensure that it is free of possible distractions. With virtual classes, it is quite a different situation. You don’t know where your learners are connecting from and what distractions they may have around them. Prior to the training, you would have to set some ground rules about what spaces your participants choose. Ask them to choose quiet rooms where they can shut themselves off from their daily hustle and bustle for a few hours.
- Refactoring learning: You need to adjust teaching methods, interactions, and the planning and scheduling of your courses to fit virtual platforms.
- Dealing with both ‘teaching’ and managing the platform: Aside from keeping learners engaged, your biggest challenge will probably be trying to juggle teaching and technical matters. There is an easy way to fix this: leave the technical aspects to a dedicated producer. That way, you can just get on with the training and trust that everything will run smoothly.
Dealing with participant technology restrictions
Another potential challenge: there is no way to ensure that your learners’ devices and connectivity are all at the same standard. Some students have brand new laptops and super-fast WiFi connections. Others are working with older devices, and may be in an area where the internet connection is not as good. At the same time, some students might be digital natives who have no trouble using their technology, while others are less comfortable. Facilitating everyone’s technical capabilities need not be the trainer’s problem, thankfully. A virtual classroom producer can find ways to accommodate everybody.
Understanding how the corporate firewall may limit accessibility to web-based tools
When setting up virtual training sessions, it is a good idea to check with the company’s IT department to find out if the corporate firewall will even allow the training to take place. Some companies – with good reason – have set up firewalls that restrict access to certain websites and tools, and may make it difficult to provide some types of learning. Either you would have to adjust some of your learning content and methods, or the company will need to relax some of its restrictions for the duration of the training.
How to prepare your virtual classroom for hybrid learning
The future of corporate learning is likely to be a hybrid of virtual and in-person methods and platforms. You may well find yourself presenting a class to a small number of in-person attendees, with the rest of the class joining in online. Your choice of platform must be able to accommodate this mix, and several more technical questions will arise as a result. In addition to your virtual training platform, you will also need to invest in good A/V equipment, and all the technology will need to be able to work together. It is possible to set up a seamless hybrid system with relative ease, provided you have someone on your team with the right expertise. A virtual classroom producer can help.
Refactor learning to match the new medium
As mentioned before, the future of corporate training, whether entirely online or in hybrid settings, will require you to adjust the way you approach your teaching methods and interact with your learners. Here are some of the main actions you will need to take to refactor your learning for the new medium:
- Increase engagement with more interactive activities.
- Use a mix of different engagement tools – chat, polls, breakout rooms
- Check in with your learners often throughout the training. Ask more questions to see if your teaching is being heard and understood.
- Take more breaks than you normally would, and break the classes up into mini-sessions
- Hand the technical aspects of your classes over to virtual producers, so you can focus on your students and the learning materials. Virtual producers improve the learning experience and allow facilitators to concentrate on knowledge transfer. They can also help both facilitators and students with troubleshooting when any technical difficulties arise.
Learngistics specializes in facilitating and supporting both virtual and live training events and learning programs for corporations. Since 2005 we’ve helped facilitate thousands of training programs for our clients. After years of supporting live training classes Learngistics has invested in building the skills necessary to help our clients move into the virtual and hybrid learning method. Contact us for more information and to see how we can help you access and optimize your hybrid or virtual training.