Although corporation staff members are increasingly working: 1) remotely (at least part of the time), 2) in different countries, 3) in different time zones, and 4) in different languages, the need to connect remains as strong as when a company’s entirety was contained in a single building (yeah, that was a long time ago).
Since this multi-everything reality is not going away, all these needs have to be met – and preferably in a way that doesn’t run L&D staff ragged.
Thankfully, technology has caught up with these requirements and eLearning can fit the bill nicely. eLearning can accomplish so very much, but for the purpose of this article, we’ll focus on the need to connect with each other in the instructional process – so here we’ll be talking about Virtual Instructor-Led Training (VILT).
Stay tuned as we “spill the beans” on its “ways and means.”
What Is Virtual Instructor-Led Training (VILT)?
Virtual instructor-led training (VILT) is, simply put, training that is conducted online by a real (not a virtual) instructor. Also referred to as “virtual classroom training” (VCT), VILT is conducted in a virtual classroom, or “an online, real-time, instructor-led learning environment with the participation of one or more learners, typically conducted with eLearning tools.”
Although virtual instruction environments endeavor to simulate traditional classrooms and the traditional learning experience, it is unrealistic to expect that the more ‘visceral’ presence of classmates and an informational mentor pacing before a whiteboard at the front of the classroom can be duplicated.
That having been said, however, one could also argue that the notion of what is ‘traditional’ is itself changing to include the online experience – not merely as more than being commonplace, but as part of the “new normal.” We are, of course, referring to the exodus from the brick-and-mortar office space (and classroom) to one’s home office due to the current pandemic. And the tendency is for the consequent need for remote work and its essential element of virtual training to develop apace.
Here are some before and after stats: The latest Nielsen Report states: “A decade ago, the U.S. Census reported that nearly 11% of the 128 million strong U.S. workforce either worked from home some or all of their time.” while recent Stanford research shows: “We see an incredible 42 percent of the U.S. labor force now working from home full-time.”
In other words: VILT is the wave of the present. Catch. The. Wave.
Benefits of VILT
The upside of this is that VILT works, and it works well.
According to research performed by VitalSmarts:
- 86% of VILT participants considered the experience ‘just as engaging as’ or ‘more engaging than’ traditional classroom training
- All were highly satisfied with the VILT experience
- Results in terms of participant engagement, skill retention and mastery, behavior change, and organizational results with VILT and traditional classroom training were identical
What does this tell us? That we are just as satisfied with talking heads on a screen as with a ‘moving target’ in a traditional physical classroom? Or does it imply that learners welcome that interactive learning comes to them instead of the other way around?
Well, in case you hadn’t noticed, while humans continue to be social animals, humanity is morphing into somewhat of a TV/computer/smartphone “screen-oriented” species – and there is apparently no turning back.
And with VILT, even though you “attend” a class, the class is actually coming to (a screen near) you, wherever you are, at the appointed time. Not a bad deal at all.
Of course, on the corporate end, the advantages are many, including the fact that traveling expenses for instructors to travel from city to city, and/or from country to country, are eliminated. The same goes for the organization’s staff, who otherwise might need to travel to a specific central location to attend classes in a traditional classroom setting – representing extra expenses and time spent away from their workstation.
Challenges of VILT
Remote training needs to be “learner-centric.” ILT (instructor-led training, aka traditional classroom training) and VILT are sometimes contrasted as being ‘instructor-centric” and “learner-centric,” respectively. But let’s be honest: as learner/student engagement is the name of the game in any instructional endeavor the learner/student needs to be the focus of the process. You are not just drawing people’s attention (that’s entertainment), but mentoring their cognition. Yes, you must. And yes, you can.
Instructors need to put themselves in their learners’ shoes, as it were, to an even greater degree and look to the learners’ needs in terms of both information and format (content and context).
As the instructor cannot use body language, physical proximity, and direct eye contact to engage individual learners, this disadvantage needs to be overcome virtually. Beyond this hurdle, the instructor and the learners can’t always see each other, which makes “Out of sight, out of mind” an even more relevant adage.
Add to that just about any distraction that a home office can offer, such as pings from arriving emails and messages, phone calls, kids, pets, TV in the next room – so, the instructor will need to work some real magic to hold everyone’s attention.
Solutions can include:
- Holding shorter sessions – an hour max
- Changing modalities frequently – about every 3 to 5 minutes – alternating between lecture, PowerPoint presentations, videos, discussion, quizzes/surveys, breakout sessions, and requesting feedback either verbally or by writing on a virtual whiteboard or in a chat function
- Limit the number of learners to about 20, as interactivity becomes impractical with large numbers of participants
As well, the instructor is well advised to use both synchronous (real-time) and asynchronous (self-paced, instructorless) learning to their toolkit: instead of forcing learners to attend marathon online real-time VILT sessions, pre-class asynchronous microlearning modules allow attendees to get a jump start on the material to be covered, and modules that are assigned post-class allow learners to reinforce what they have learned and even take quizzes/tests.
The result is that the instructor can turn this interactivity challenge to their advantage by reimagining what it is to instruct.
How to Successfully Implement VILT
At first blush, implementing VILT might seem to be overwhelming, but it’s actually quite straightforward. Here are some aspects to put in place to ensure that all goes well:
Choose the right technology
Virtual classes are typically conducted with the help of web conferencing platforms. So, first and foremost, you’ll need to choose the one that’s most appropriate for your needs. Aspects to consider are whether it satisfies your company’s needs and, just as importantly, if it is easy for both the instructor and learners to use. Needless to say, the audio and video have to be top quality.
At the very least, the platform you choose should include screen sharing software and offer “raise hand” and chat functions, virtual whiteboard capacity, a polling/survey function, and the ability to have activities in smaller groups, e.g., breakout rooms, discussion forums, and workspaces for group assignments.
A number of platforms exist, some of the more popular ones being the Cisco Webex Training Center, Adobe Connect, Microsoft Teams, GoToMeeting, and the ever-popular Zoom.
Regardless of the platform you choose, it will just be a portal for fancy talking head sessions unless you integrate it with a learning management system (LMS). Although web conferencing tools have a lot of useful options, they fall short compared to a learning management system. An LMS allows you to organize your teaching sessions, keep track of the training process, and send out reminders of upcoming sessions. You can also assign pre-class materials and homework, send or resend relevant materials, and engage your learners with surveys/quizzes on the spot or as part of an asynchronous module to be studied between classes. And you receive the stats on all of these in a heartbeat. iSpring Learn LMS, for example, accomplishes all of this seamlessly and integrates with Zoom to ensure you have uninterrupted communication and collaboration options.
Create learning content
Whereas the instructor’s presence and participation serve as the “north star” of the course, they will undoubtedly also use a variety of types of content to enrich the training experience like videos, PowerPoint presentations, audio clips, and infographics. To make learning even more engaging and effective, you can assemble all the necessary content into interactive eLearning courses that learners will be able to access online on any device. For this, you will need an authoring tool like iSpring Suite. Take a look at the demo of a course that was created with iSpring Suite:
Deliver training to your learners
Alright, it’s time to “lock and load.” You’ve generated your content, decided which part to deliver in real-time and which to assign between classes, you’ve chosen your tech, and the first virtual session is in countdown to takeoff.
But some questions remain:
- Does everyone know what is going to happen and when each facet will be engaged? Some participants may have to adjust their schedule to make sure they can attend together with everyone else at the same time, and you may need to coordinate with other departments to facilitate their participation.
- Do all of your learners have experience with taking online classes? Everybody has a first time, and it can be challenging – and sometimes the psychological aspect of virtual instruction can be more intimidating than the actual process, which can even be fun.
Now let’s take a look at some things to consider to ensure that your virtual session not only gets off the ground, but gets your classes into orbit.
VILT Best Practices
Instructors will do well to:
- Know their software, the platform, and the material to be taught inside and out, as they cannot ‘hem and haw’ as sometimes occurs in physical classes to “buy time” – as here, it will just lose your audience
- Do a test run to make sure all equipment and software are working as they should
- Arrange for a moderator and/or tech expert to be on hand at all times, as a moderator allows breakout groups (and disturbing elements) to be handled efficiently and a tech expert keeps everyone online/connected at all times
- Send a brief/outline of what will be covered to all learners beforehand, so everyone will be “on the same channel” during the class
- Check to see that all learners have received and read/studied (and understood and retained) any preparatory materials that were sent out and analyze the results – see if they read the material to the end and took (and passed) any quizzes that were included in the material – a function that an LMS handles with ease
- Practice, practice, practice
Learners need to:
- Know the software and check their equipment so that class time doesn’t become downtime
- Get buy-in from family members that class time is quiet time
- Deactivate and/or silence all sources of distraction, such as phones and email and messaging apps/programs
- Read/study any preparatory class materials and make sure that any ‘homework’ has been submitted
Specify the rules and stick to them:
- Your learners must not be a source of noise – make sure they have set up their home classroom effectively (phones on silent mode, etc.)
- Arguments and bullying are not allowed
- Use the raise hand function to maintain order
- Message when and how it is appropriate (this includes writing on the virtual whiteboard)
It is prudent to send a list of class time rules to all participants before the session, so everyone arrives on the same ‘frequency.’
Let the learners know they can ask for help if their system goes awry (you cannot assume that all participants are tech savvy), and set up multiple methods for them to do so.
Interactivity and collaboration are golden. Without these, your learners can easily ‘disconnect,’ even though they are still online. Ask for input and encourage discussions to keep things flowing.
Does VILT represent a change in the space-time continuum? Well, maybe not. But if you do it right, virtual instructor-led training will allow you to work the time spent together online in the virtual ‘space’ to everyone’s advantage.