As virtual classrooms become more and more prevalent, the need for a standard set of practices and procedures for training delivery has become increasingly apparent. The virtual classroom is a different learning environment from the conventional classroom.
Mixing both the physical and virtual classroom together is a challenge to keep everyone engaged and focused, oftentimes resulting in low review scores. But it doesn’t have to be. With some modifications to the way we present the program, it is possible to create an effective learning environment in a mixed classroom of virtual and physical students.
LACK OF ENGAGEMENT
Trainers have to be many things: technically adept, knowledgeable about their course and products, great at working with people and, most of all, engaging to the students in order to facilitate learning. If the trainer fails in any one area, it is reflected negatively in the entire course review. Add to that the dry and sparse slide decks that comprise many of the courses that trainers are asked to deliver. The big question is, “How can we engage the virtual student more?”
The lack of student satisfaction is tied to two different problems: (1) the limitations of a virtual classroom versus a physical classroom, and (2) the lack of communicability on the part of the student.
LIMITATIONS OF THE VIRTUAL CLASSROOM
Lack of engagement is the root cause of a dissatisfied student, but why is that exactly? The virtual classroom and physical classroom differ in a variety of ways and, oftentimes, the virtual student is missing some of these key benefits:
- Visual accountability: The trainer can read students’ body language to gauge whether students are bored, confused, tired or happy.
- Commitment to timeliness: A physical classroom elicits more urgency for students to be on time, and also helps them focus on the content without distractions from home or work.
- Engagement: A trainer in the physical classroom, by his voice, body language and movement about the room, draws students’ attention to the slides, demos and other training aids.
- Interactivity: Physical students can raise their hand and speak anytime.
- Live discussions: The physical student can participate in group discussions, brainstorming, sidebar conversations and help others in the classroom.
LACK OF INTERACTION FROM VIRTUAL STUDENTS
Most virtual students do not speak during training sessions, as they are using laptop speakers and if they try to use their microphone, it gives them feedback. So they resort to using the “everyone” chat window to type their comments. The virtual student’s engagement has now been reduced from full visual and audio to just a chat window.
Additionally, many virtual students do not use a web camera even though most laptops and tablets have them. Instead, they will use the chat windows to communicate for the entire training course.
TOOLS FOR SUCCESSFUL MIXED DELIVERIES
To enhance engagement in the virtual classroom, the trainer and students need to use the same interactive resources that live classrooms have, including voice, video and presence. Here are a few tools to use in the mixed classroom:
A comfortable headset with mic. Over the ear microphones are preferred, as they help eliminate room noises. One popular model mutes the mic when swung up out of the way. Full Voice Over Internet Protocol (VoIP) ensures headsets with mics do not create echoes or feedback.
A software tool to participate. The platform should include an “everyone” chat window and the ability to private chat to all attendees. It should also have moveable windows that display the course slides, video of the live presentation and attendee list. Learners should also have the ability to raise hands, participate in quizzes and give iconic feedback such as applause and laughter.
Virtual and Physical Students:
Additional screens. If there is a digital book for the training course, an additional screen allows students to have all materials accessible at once.
A wireless lapel mic. The mic should be clipped to the center of the instructor’s chest, not to one side, to avoid the audio from fading. There should also be one room mic, ideally suspended from the ceiling with a wide pickup pattern, or a desktop mic pointed at the room. The most effective way to manage all your mics is with an inexpensive mixer. Two to eight channel mixers can easily manage the levels of each mic.
A webcam. Avoid using a webcam integrated into a laptop because the angle is much more difficult to manage. It is best to use a free-standing camera pointed toward the presentation area. It is also suggested to have a separate camera to use while you are sitting at the computer to do demos, and a third camera pointed at the room to give virtual students the ability to see what is going on. Your presentation software can pick a camera anytime the conditions change. If you want two cameras on at the same time, you will probably need two computers connected to your session.
Spice up your slide deck. Bullet points won’t survive. Make your slides engaging by adding screenshots, product visuals, icons and whiteboard drawings to grab learners’ attention. Sometimes one well-placed and relevant graphic will do. Conducting live demos also holds the interest of learners.
Industry standard software to deliver to both the virtual and physical students. The goal is to communicate effectively as one class. Enable microphones for all virtual students, and let them control their own mute button. Promote opportunities for questions, interactivity and spontaneous learning.
A touchscreen for white-boarding. The whiteboard is projected in the room and virtually. There should be an adjustable stand that lets you lay it flat, vertical or anything in between. Use your fingers or for more precision, use a touch stylus. Make use of colors and get to know your white-boarding software.
There is room for a standardized improvement in the quality of virtual classroom training. In most instances, the broadcasting of slide presentations is in the format of boring bullet points. We are likewise already broadcasting audio, albeit from a scratchy and echo sounding conference phone or a mic somewhere in the room. This isn’t enough to engage; only to participate.
Trainers should look to employ unique interactive methods to keep the virtual student engaged, such as quizzes and verbal questions. Beyond this, however, there is a need for the correct tools to ensure the audio, visual and content are being transmitted and acceptable to the virtual learner. By using the right tools, your training delivery will be met with satisfaction from live and virtual students alike.