By Wayne Stottler, Kepner-Tregoe 

 

The virtual classroom’s biggest advantage is time and cost savings. This is significant whether it is to avoid the time and cost of gathering a far-flung workforce or simply minimizing time spent on training. But the savings are lost if the program is ineffective, badly received or irrelevant back on the job.

To optimize the value of your virtual training programs, take a hard look at these seven factors when you select or develop effective, virtual learning opportunities.

1.Optimized Content

Look for or develop content that is delivered in easily consumed, bite-sized amounts. Research shows that smaller amounts of content delivered in single concepts provide strong building blocks for comprehensive learning and retention.

While you want to get the most bang for your training buck, optimized virtual training keeps learners on track by breaking material into segments that make sense and integrate into the larger learning concepts.

Another feature to consider is how the virtual learning program integrates the virtual classroom activity with independent learning and practice activities. Supplementing the virtual classroom with work done independently uses time efficiently and builds a bridge from the virtual classroom to the outside world.  It also provides opportunities to reinforce or re-teach concepts if independent work is not yielding expected levels of comprehension.

2.Great Teachers

What works in the classroom often works virtually too, but may require the instructor to adapt their delivery to the virtual classroom. When a teacher has mastered the content and the virtual delivery system, what distinguishes the best teachers? Good communication skills, high emotional intelligence, experience, high expectations and resilience are among the classic characteristics of good teachers.

Virtual learning providers known for excellence in teaching understand the value of people AND technology. They are able to blend these capabilities with additional skills related to engagement and involvement, listening and getting learners to work with each other from a distance.

3.Motivated and Supported Learners

Employees taking time to learn new skills need to understand how training is relevant to their job. Organizations can optimize virtual programs by delivering motivated students to the classroom. Learners should understand why the training is relevant to them, what is involved and how much time they are expected to spend on the program.  They should also understand the opportunities and efficiencies of not spending time or resources on travel for training and be ready to use that ‘found time’ to the best advantage. 

Making training relevant extends before and after training. While your training provider can build a bridge from training to on-job application, learners need the support of their managers in order to take the time needed to complete the training and apply new skills back at work. Breaking virtual training into manageable chunks and sequencing it over time can allow the learner to rapidly apply and adjust in repeated learning cycles, using the feedback from independent learning and instructor coaching to continuously apply the skills they are learning almost immediately.

4.Rules of Engagement

It is critical to set ground rules that will keep students active and engaged during virtual learning, whether that is happening in the virtual classroom or through independent learning. The virtual class is more likely to keep learners engaged with guidelines that limit or direct the use of cell phones and other devices, discourage leaving the virtual learning space for other websites or work, and by keeping unregistered learners out of the environment. If participants must be on call, set up a communication protocol to alert the teacher that they have ‘stepped out’ of session and when they will return. When learners understand these guidelines in advance, they are less likely to vary from them purposefully, and more likely to stay engaged.

5.Clarified Goals/Understanding

Virtual training usually includes independent activities done outside the virtual classroom. By clearly establishing the goals of the training and how and when the components work together, learners will feel more connected to the instructor and the coursework and will be less likely to tune out or skip steps.

Interactive activities such as online quizzes and surveys help learners and teachers immediately assess what is being learned and how learners are progressing.  Activities that require learners to apply what they have learned and submit those to a peer or instructor for review also help the instructor assess learning, as well as provide learners with short-interval feedback on their understanding and capabilities.  Quick, simple corrections can help learners avoid getting lost or frustrated and build a stronger commitment to learning – and ultimately using – the content of the training.

6.Adaptive Approaches

Don’t rely on what always worked before. Learners from a variety of cultures, parts of the organization and with diverse learning styles require flexibility and new approaches from the instructor. Classic case studies or previously successful approaches to material may prove too long and unwieldy in the virtual classroom or need to be used in a new way.  Consider role-based exercises that require interaction and information sharing for success.  Also consider breaking down concepts so that everyone in a session must use component concepts before the group moves on.  Learners can help each other quickly and the group is, at least in part, responsible for its overall progress.

The virtual classroom, like the traditional classroom and unlike MOOC or e-learning is quite adaptive. Every good teacher starts with a lesson plan and adjusts as needed. Within the coursework, use of videos, surveys, quizzes, simulations and an increasing array of innovative learning tools that are available through most learning platforms providing myriad ways to adapt coursework in advance or on the fly. The virtual classroom should never be set in stone (or hardware); it should offer the flexibility to quickly assess, respond and adapt to optimize learning for unique needs and abilities.

7.Focus on Engagement

In addition to the myriad assessment, evaluation and communication tools available in the virtual classroom, building engagement should begin long before training commences. Pre-work can be done independently, in pairs, or in small groups before the session begins so learners hit the ground running. Once underway, the virtual classroom can be personalized by encouraging engagement through real time interaction, messaging, pairs or team assignments and virtual teamwork.

While setting guidelines and communicating expectations focuses learners, the best virtual programs kick off with strong communications and demonstrated value to learners, and they incorporate milestones during learning through review and application. Opportunities for collaboration through simulations or other activities further engage learners by allowing them to use their new skills.

Standard vs Live Online Training: A Brief Perspective

In the realm of critical thinking skills training, no company has been around as long as Kepner-Tregoe, and we’re often called the gold standard in problem solving skills. Founded in 1958, Kepner-Tregoe had plenty of training experience when we initiated online training in the 21st century. Plus we had a pool of experienced instructors and a roster of devoted clients who worked with us to support our unique, live, online offerings.

Best practices from our traditional classroom experience provided a firm basis for virtual learning. Over the years we have optimized content to reflect current business trends and industry needs and we have researched and applied techniques to enhance retention and encourage application of new skills.

Perhaps the most exciting feature of virtual learning (aside from minimizing travel) is reflected in Tip #6 Adaptive Approaches. Virtual learning provided us with huge opportunities for adapting our training, not only adapting content but adapting new approaches to delivery. For example, without the need to get everyone in the same room, we can provide our classic Problem Solving and Decision Making workshop to an organization in a series of days spread over a period of time without greater expense, and we can choose to focus on different components of the KT Problem Solving and Decision Making skills as they are needed. We are also able to provide both instruction and coaching economically so every learner receives one-on-one coaching, a customized way to accelerate application of skills on the job.

The time and cost savings of virtual learning provide a flexible approach to training that has earned the live online approach a solid place in any organization’s L&D program.  

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