There is no question that online learning is pivotal to your learning strategy in the new reality of the COVID-19 pandemic and the changes brought herewith. However, the importance of classroom training cannot be excluded, as no other learning format can replace it. Virtual instructor-led training (VILT) is one way to bring classroom learning into today’s largely hybrid world of work. VILT encourages communication between the learners and the instructor in an immersive and effective learning environment where learners actively participate and interact. Let’s discuss the expectations or general perceptions about a virtual classroom and the reality surrounding it.

1. Expectation: VILT Is Cost-effective for the Organization

Reality: One of the many advantages of VILT is that it’s often more cost-effective than in-person training. It saves a good amount of money on traveling and accommodation. Additionally, VILT helps reduce organizations’ concerns about the expense of training materials by lowering the cost of providing printed materials for in-person instruction. VILT also allows organizations to access subject matter experts (SMEs) from all around the world no matter their location, allowing learners to connect with SMEs without having as many logistical constraints. This, in turn, also minimizes the cost of accommodations and travel for the organization.

2. Expectation: VILT Is a Convenient Option for Remote Learning.

Reality: VILT is a viable option for remote learning, as participants can log in from anywhere if they have a device (e.g., smartphone, computer) and a stable internet connection. Classroom learning is restricted to a brick-and-mortar setting and the number of participants is often limited. Whereas VILT can accommodate many learners and provides a convenient way for learning from any geographical distance.  In other words, it’s a viable option for training a large, dispersed workforce.

3. Expectation: VILT Engages Learners

Reality: VILT sessions can be engaging when they are designed as shorter sessions. By changing the modalities and switching between lectures, PowerPoint presentations, videos, discussions, quizzes/surveys, breakout sessions, and seeking input frequently and through various means (e.g., vocally, in writing, on a virtual whiteboard, or via a chat function), one can hold the attention span of the learners’ and keep them involved in their learning. VILT courses can be designed to be completed in a short time span, which helps maintain learners’ engagement and attention.

This enables learners to interact with peers as they learn, keeping them engaged with the material and one another. A virtual instructor can engage in open discourse, ask and respond to questions, gauge learner comprehension and take the necessary actions to improve understanding, similar to in-person classroom training. They can also instantly adjust to the unique needs of various learners and thus help to eliminate zoom fatigue.

4. Expectation: Learner Distraction Might Affect the Effectiveness of VILT.

Reality: Distractions are different in remote learning since instructors in VILT have considerably less influence over the learners’ surroundings than in a traditional classroom. For instance, in a remote environment, learners can become distracted by people knocking on doors, crying babies, noisy pets, and more.

However, the good news is that these challenges can be mitigated by considering these options:

  • Encourage learners to ask questions, voice concerns, or express opinions using the chat and “raise hand” features.
  • Ask learners to keep their videos on to help them stay present during the session.
  • Add games or brief exercises and polls to your presentations to break the monotony.
  • Call each participant by name and solicit their opinions.
  • Use chat or polls to ask others to express their feelings or opinions by sending out emojis and reactions.

5. Expectation: Instructors Have Trouble Reading Nonverbal Cues in VILT.

Reality: In an in-person classroom, instructors can move around the floor, read people’s body language better, and understand the group to adapt and change the pace of their tone. They can also check to see if any participants need more assistance. In a virtual setting, facilitators can utilize various strategies to gauge learners’ engagement and understanding of the course material. For instance, if learners’ cameras are turned on, facilitators can watch learners’ posture, facial gestures, eye contact, and other behaviors. Various technological options such as hand raising, breakout rooms and chat windows assist in assessing how learners’ feel about the training. Additionally, the challenges can be tackled by leveraging the technological advantages that various online platforms offer, such as:

  • Create a virtual lobby to engage with learners well before the lesson. Many virtual platforms can be set up with a space where learners can mingle before the session begins.
  • Make plans for engaging icebreakers and orientation sessions where the instructors and learners identify themselves, form teams, engage in activities and have discussions.
  • Recognize and value the participation and contributions of each learner. To entice them to participate frequently throughout the sessions, send them messages praising their contributions and award them with points or other benefits that accrue over time.
  • Utilize pre-training questionnaires or needs assessments to learn their concerns, trouble areas and other skills needs.
  • Make direct interactions with learners who may require additional support and motivation.

6. Expectation: Reduced Opportunities for Real-Time Applications

Reality: Traditional classroom training offers real-time applications for learners when they complete the sessions.  In person, they might practice by acting out certain role plays with their peers, where the person providing feedback is another participant or the facilitator. On the other hand, VILT typically entails practice in a digital environment, leaving fewer opportunities for practical experiences. There are several ways one can substitute for these in-person experiences, such as incorporating blended learning methods that combine the best of both online and offline modes. Integrating simulations through gamification, augmented reality (AR), and virtual reality (VR) is another possibility where learners learn in a simulated environment, and instructors can guide them in real-time using practical applications that imitate real life.

Parting Thoughts

Undoubtedly, your learning approach post COVID-19 pandemic and the changes it brought will be heavily reliant on online learning going forward. However, the value of classroom instruction cannot be completely dismissed. VILT is a viable, practical approach to virtual training when considering the hybrid work culture. With the involvement of instructor-led training, VILT is undoubtedly a win-win situation for all.