Before “COVID” became a household term, the projected estimated market value for online education technology by 2025 was $350 billion. A major portion of that growth was driven by language apps, virtual tutoring, video conferencing tools and online learning software.
Then came the pandemic, which sped the increase in the adoption of virtual training methods, given social distancing mandates and remote work. The value of online learning, with anyone, anywhere, at any time, increased exponentially — and there’s no indication of a return to the level of traditional on-site learning we experienced prior to 2020.
Gartner analysts estimated in July 2020 that as much as 85% of learning and development (L&D) functions had shifted in-person training to virtual modes. The result? A demand for new programs and comprehensive tools to meet virtual learning needs. Therefore, it’s safe to assume the $350 billion estimate for online learning technology in 2025 will grow.
Virtual Training Evolves With the Times
An array of models for virtual training was already driving change before the pandemic, so companies had options for remote learning. However, the combination of doing something novel (making the move from in-person to virtual work and training) as the organization was under duress (e.g., mandatory budget and staffing cuts forced by work and demand slowdowns) created a “quick fix” misconception about eLearning solutions that permeated every industry.
In an April 2020 TrustRadius survey of 2,168 software buyers and users, 15% said they planned to increase their spending on software as a result of the pandemic. Almost 70% planned to purchase web conferencing tools, close to 60% collaboration software and roughly 52% remote desktop solutions. While companies realized the need for capabilities like improved communication, visibility into what trainees are working on and a more personal touch when it comes to remote learning, not one respondent indicated the planned purchase of virtual training platforms.
Last year, many companies fell victim to thinking it was OK to settle for whichever meeting and collaboration platform they had on hand to conduct virtual training. While convenient for general day-to-day communication, the rudimentary nature of audio, video and/or chat tools weren’t (and still aren’t) sufficient for executing quality, hands-on virtual training and development.
For example, unlike collaboration technology built solely for short-form communication, online learning platforms enable a shared-screen experience to be a personal, direct connection between each learner and the instructor. In addition, many advanced virtual learning solutions include an “over the shoulder” feature that, in effect, is like having the instructor walk around the room to provide one-on-one attention to each participant.
Virtual learning platforms also speed up the adoption of technology skills and software applications throughout an organization. Here’s how:
- A browser-based solution gives learners easy access to training environments.
- Training environments are designed to offer ease and flexibility, so learners can work freely and without worry that they’ll alter or break anything.
- Training is tailored to provide learners with hands-on experiences that address the most important features of a software solution.
- Training is personalized to the specific needs of each class.
- There’s ample room for interaction, simulation, experimentation and collaboration.
- Learners can train in flexible ways that include self-paced and instructor-led options.
- Learners receive immediate feedback on work from instructors with over-the-shoulder features.
The mistaken reliance on collaboration technology instead of true virtual training platforms limits an organization’s ability to improve workers’ skills and speed up technology use. It’s what happened to the many businesses that were unprepared to make the shift to virtual learning models last year. It hurt morale, training and development initiatives, the ability for remote workers to prosper, and the revenue projections of organizations worldwide.
Parkland Health and Hospital System Continues Medical Technology Training During Pandemic
One of the largest public hospital systems in the United States, Dallas-based Parkland Health and Hospital System, was preparing to roll out traditional classroom training programs for an electronic health records application to more than 400 residents when COVID-19 halted plans for in-person instruction.
After exploring traditional online meeting applications and collaboration tools, Parkland realized none of them would work for its purposes. They didn’t provide crucial features Parkland needed to administer effective hands-on electronic health record software training. The Parkland team began researching virtual learning platforms that could provide instructors with features like individual views of each student’s progress and classwork, the ability to access training with only a browser, and an “over the shoulder” feature to engage directly with each student.
Once Parkland identified a platform, it quickly developed and launched its training program. Within four months, more than 1,000 residents, administrators and back-office staff completed the training. Their feedback was that the online learning platform was personalized and interactive, and the hospital system continues to successfully train its employees using the virtual platform.
Lessons That Carry Into 2021 and Beyond
Parkland, like so many other organizations around the globe going through the process of moving in-person training to a virtual modality, came to understand that while the way we learn may change due to environmental and societal constraints, the strategy and execution of leveraging technology to deliver training remotely are still in the hands of the humans who use it.
Here are some recommendations for selecting and administering a virtual training platform:
- Work with a platform provider that has a flexible consumption-based pricing model (without a long-term contract) that builds in cost control measures to minimize usage charges.
- Implement a cloud-native model that all learners need in order to gain access is a web browser.
- Ensure that you can create learners’ hands-on environments once and replicate them for students across multiple classes.
- Give instructors immediate and constant visibility into each student’s hands-on environment without disrupting the class.
- Give instructors the ability to gain mouse and keyboard control of a student’s virtual lab if necessary.
- Use well-crafted hands-on activities to make remote learning engaging and flexible for a diverse group of learners and instructors.
While meeting and collaboration tools can automate and improve teamwork, they are not purpose-built learning platforms for hands-on, virtual instruction, training and knowledge transfer. The culture shift to training with on-demand, virtual learning platforms has been impactful. Employees are more efficient, retain and implement what they learn at a faster pace, and value organizations for empowering them with skill-building opportunities.