The terrain of corporate training today still includes the typical delivery options prevalent within the last decade – virtual, on-demand, mobile and traditional classroom – but there appears to be no clear plan of integration, operation and ability to manage learner and instructor experiences. Demands for programs to meet increased profitability and market share growth continue to persist, with training managers facing the extraordinary responsibility of not only delivering more with less, but in some cases, dramatically reducing expenses related to development and delivery.
On the flip side are learners and instructors. The mobilization of technology has imprinted a new paradigm for knowledge consumption. Many of today’s learners have turned in their spiral-bound notebooks and desktop PCs for a laptop or tablet, opting for a more bite-sized method to learn and develop skills on the go. This poses a challenge to many instructors who have not been adequately trained to leverage today’s technology or adapt course materials and teach in a technology-fused learning environment.
While some companies are trending toward offering a blended training approach to cross the divide of synchronous (traditional instructor-led classroom) and asynchronous (traditional online learning) there has yet to be a fully-vetted, defined model that is trusted and accepted by training department leaders, instructors and students. Training programs are often devised around available resources, budget and student schedules with the learning environment coming in a distant fourth. While on-demand, self-paced training has contributed to a significant savings to many, student engagement has suffered and non-completion rates continue to rise.
It would appear the integration of synchronous and asynchronous learning environments seem to be a natural intersection to provide increased adoption and value. But as many have come to realize, this is not a common reality for most training organizations. The course design, marketing, and operational and business case drivers are not properly aligned to support and/or manage a result that is fast enough to support forecasted sales and services growth while providing a positive learner experience. This is all about to change with Next Generation Classroom.
A NEW WAY TO LEARN AND TRAIN
The concept and methodologies of Next Generation Classroom (NGC) are not new, but the design of the application for learning is unique to ensure both synchronous and asynchronous training complement the learning experience. NGC, when properly adopted, allows instructors greater opportunities to successfully transfer knowledge to learners through both live lecture and hands-on breakout sessions for increased interaction with content. Furthermore, NGC provides a richer and more constructive dialogue between students.
The quest for a better way to learn will always return to the most fundamental element of success — the learner experience. The essential ingredients to an effective learning experience are founded on the successful integration of:
- Physical and virtual space
- Interactive content
- Instructor’s skills
Physical and Virtual Space: NGC harnesses and leverages all of the key learning success factors. The use of space is combined to include both virtual and physical proximity. When combined properly, this learning environment is more conducive to successful knowledge transfer and an engaged learner. The opportunity to the training organization is faster training time to market and improved efficiencies as locality and distance no longer have to be managed in separate learning modalities. NGC thrives upon the mix and use of both.
With an NGC platform, instructors can use their native skillset for effective training in both the physical and virtual space simultaneously. The same proven student-trainer relationships exist in both spaces and the student to student interactions are real time and visually based. NGC eliminates the “have and have nots” for an equal learner experience for all students, regardless of location. Learning segregation is eliminated in the NGC environment.
Technology: The technology design of NGC is simple, but integrates powerful tools that work well for in-class and remote learners equally. Two-way video conferencing technologies with robust communication and teaching tools, virtual lab environments and digital content delivery systems are components of NGC that equalize the learning environment for all students, regardless of their proximity to the instructor, promoting collaboration and providing a method for robust interaction between instructors and students cross directionally.
In the past, online collaboration tools were designed primarily for business communications and were only harnessed for training as an afterthought. Those platforms are data-centric, with add-on and embedded Voice over IP (VoIP), coupled with traditional audio conferencing as a backup. Accordingly, they were never designed for live classrooms combined with virtual students to allow for natural communications not only between students and instructors, but also student to student.
Interactive Content: Since we’re leveraging the combination of existing training delivery methods, much of the content developed for a particular mode of learning (on-demand, virtual, live instructor-led) can be easily adapted and enhanced for success in NGC. The modification of content may involve chunking modules into smaller portions, interspersing polls and small group breakouts within lessons, and finding other creative ways to improve training materials so they are more visual and interactive. The key is to leverage available technology to enhance learner interaction with the course content.
True interactive content when harnessed in an NGC environment allows for more student control of the content experience. Oftentimes, in a non-NGC learning environment, the content is static and shown only in a present and see mode for learners. The ability to allow students to engage and interact with content, without disrupting the flow of the course, is the foundation of an NGC environment.
Instructor’s Skills: NGC provides an opportunity for instructors to improve their delivery skills. There are various certification programs and quick tip videos available to bridge the skills gap, but in reality, the leap to teaching in a hybrid learning environment often involves only a few quick pilot sessions to get acclimated to the technology, environment and mix of localized and virtual students.
For the majority of experienced instructors, they already possess the baseline teaching skills and those skills are enhanced when engaging in NGC delivery. Instructors are encouraged in NGC not to change their style of teaching, but to evolve it with greater focus on interactions with all students and awareness of the learning conversations that naturally develop between the local and remote students. It takes just a short period of time in an initial NGC session for instructors to realize there is a much greater degree of visual interaction and accountability transpiring, resulting in the requirement for a more focused approach on active participation and learning for all students.
A REAL BUSINESS CASE FOR NEXT GENERATION CLASSROOM
The shift to NGC is not only driven by the learner experience, it is a result of the need to make corporate training better from a business aspect. For decades, learning organizations have been asked to revise their training program plans in order to make them more efficient, better performing and more economical.
NGC offers quick returns and recurring ROI for the training organization. It is intentionally designed to provide a usage-based model of expense avoidance to facilitate fast growth without the necessity of heavy capital investments, human resources or long integration cycles. The quantifiable quick returns (30-60-90-day realization) typically occur in the following areas:
Decreased class cancellations. NGC provides students with attendance options for flexible location choices that best suit them, whether it’s a local or virtual classroom interconnected with the instructor-based site. The ability to distribute live, interactive training of equal learner experience has a high value and promotes increased attendance.
Positive impact on instructor’s effectiveness and evaluation ratings. Instructors can easily adopt their existing skills with NGC. When they embrace the subtle but improved learner experience model, instructors are more confident in their ability to teach, interact and properly evaluate real-time knowledge transfer. The improved learning medium has a positive impact on both the course content and instructor, and it is reflected in higher evaluation ratings by students.
Increased market reach, penetration and scalability. These three business requirements are improved when an NGC program is adopted. Time to market is improved by the facilitation of training delivery into multiple markets, reaching a greater number of learners while allowing for wide-scale geographic distribution. With the use of an NGC platform for training, parallel marketing and registration activities can be harnessed more effectively and efficiently to generate improved results that are measurable.
Quick diversification of portfolio offerings, enabling faster customized positioning for specific programs. Many training portfolios are littered with similar courses that were developed simply to support the use of multiple delivery platforms that often confuse learners, and overwhelm instructors. An NGC platform allows for the consolidation of modalities, which supports a quicker diversification and faster customization of strategic training programs, avoiding the legacy requirements for a wide range of interrelated, but disconnected training delivery platforms.
Additional off-podium time for instructors. The NGC byproduct of additional off-podium time for instructors is not initially anticipated by training organizations. Instructors will experience and realize that less demand is placed on their time at the podium due to the ability to teach more students, with less cancellations and a decrease in travel and prep times. This unseen advantage can be quickly harnessed to allow instructors more time to develop and enhance their product, service and solution knowledge.
For decades, companies have tried to cross the divide between synchronous and asynchronous learning in an attempt to create efficiencies, flexibility and convenience for learning. The problem isn’t in the technology or training delivery itself, but in how those components are combined to harness the power from each to create the ultimate learning experience. Next Generation Classroom is about understanding how people learn and leveraging existing learning models to adapt technologies and delivery methods to optimize knowledge transfer. It represents an opportunity for learners, instructors and learning leaders who are striving to develop a more efficient, profit-centered training organization.
NGC is about re-establishing relationships in learning and recapturing the learning space in-between, which has immediate and long lasting positive financial impacts for the overall business.
Hugh McCullen is president of MicroTek, where he is responsible for expanding the company’s customer services portfolio and global presence while accelerating its ability to provide best-in-class training solutions designed to enhance the learner experience.