With increasing pressure on learning organizations to deliver greater results and with ever-decreasing resources and time, there is an understandable race away from the physical to the virtual classroom. The catch-22 is that virtual training is seen by many as a poor and distant relative to the "real" thing, the physical classroom, especially when it comes to learner engagement and business impact.
But the live virtual classroom is giving decision makers a highly effective approach that can cut costs, reach geographically dispersed learners, and speed up program adoption all while increasing learner engagement, training results, and business impact.
What is it?
The live virtual classroom leverages a web-based platform to deliver live, instructor-led training to geographically dispersed learners. It eliminates the need for learners to dedicate large blocks of time - sometimes days on end - to training that takes them away from their jobs and swamps them with new information that they won't be able to retain or apply. (We call this phenomenon "drinking from the fire hose.")
By way of example, a two-day physical training event can often be condensed into five 75-minute modules delivered over time, which reduces time in training by about 40 percent and allows for content to be "drip fed" in more manageable chunks. Even more exciting than the speed, the cost savings and convenience of the live virtual classroom are its unique strengths: We can now bring together entire teams for just an hour or two per week, and we can bring content experts into the classroom for just a few minutes.
But there is an important distinction to make between the live virtual classroom and other types of training. The live virtual classroom involves more than simply translating the same training content delivered in the physical classroom to the Internet or even in a webinar. To be truly effective, live virtual training has to be designed from the ground up as a completely unique style of learning experience. This necessitates building programs based on applied best practices - such as keeping classes small, designing instruction in short modules, and using multimedia - that maximize the strengths of the virtual medium while minimizing its inherent challenges. (Challenges can include difficulty with maintaining participant engagement in a virtual environment for more than 90 minutes at a time, or the lack of face-to-face peer collaboration.)
We know that the days of virtual training playing second fiddle to physical, event-based training are over. Skeptics who argue that it's impossible to engage learners without being there need to look no further than the broadcast media to see that it is indeed possible. Millions of people are motivated to tune in to radio chat shows. Millions are persuaded to buy goods and services they didn't even know existed thanks to infomercials. And millions more have learned immeasurable amounts thanks to Biography and The History Channel. This doesn't happen accidentally; there is a proven formula here that we can learn from and apply to great effect in the live virtual classroom.
According to the widely accepted learning model of the Community of Inquiry (COI) and the work of Karen Swan of Kent State University, there are three components of effective learning: social presence, cognitive presence, and teaching presence.
First, the live virtual classroom enables the required social presence where learners can interact with each other and the subject matter experts and facilitators. They can share their observations and learning experiences. They can challenge, debate, and explore concepts in real time. If training requires this level of social interaction, then live virtual is likely
the optimal approach.
Second, live virtual is the optimal approach when the learners lack the time, focus, or motivation to learn the specific topic. The live virtual classroom provides a critical interface that enables us to motivate and inspire these learners to embrace new or different ideas, information, or approaches by providing context for why learning something is important or by making them aware of the tools available to them.
Finally, and somewhat obviously, the live virtual classroom frees us from having to gather our learners in a physical classroom and hold them captive for the duration of the program.
Why does it work?
Live virtual allows us to integrate learning with on-the-job application and coaching. Because the live virtual classroom allows learners to participate from wherever they're located, we can deliver a program for an hour or two per week over a period of weeks. This allows the learner to absorb and apply the new skills, approaches, or behaviors in a way that's more manageable and supports sustained adoption and application. It also means that we no longer have to rely on role play and simulation; learners can immediately put new ideas into practice on the job, after each training session, and then learn from each other's experiences, during the live event.
When designed and delivered based on best practices, live virtual training can deliver a greater impact on business results. The drip feed of learning over time - combined with the integration of learning with on-the-job application and coaching - translates into a more effective learning experience, higher retention rates, and a more significant and sustainable change in behaviors.