6 Keys to Success with Virtual Classroom Training
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Right now, online training is exploding in popularity as an alternative to in-person training. It’s easy to see why. When done right, virtual classrooms closely replicate the learning experience of a live, in-person class, without the hassle of travel or commuting.
But delivering a top-notch virtual classroom experience requires more than just putting your existing PowerPoint slides online. It requires a shift in thinking. Here are the top techniques that successful trainers use to deliver superior classroom experiences online.
Know the difference between virtual classroom training and a webinar.
Although they may sound like the same thing, a webinar is entirely different from virtual classroom training. It’s simply an online seminar. The communication is almost entirely one-way, from the speaker to the learners. There’s very little interaction (or none at all).
But in a virtual classroom, learners and trainers interact frequently. This is just one of the reasons the virtual classroom is more effective for imparting the knowledge and skill employees need to be successful on the job.
When webinars are used properly, they can be powerful informational marketing tools. But they don’t yield the same performance-based results as virtual classroom training.
Keep your learners engaged and active.
In a virtual classroom, learners aren’t physically present in one location. They may be in the office, at home, or somewhere else, and may be surrounded by distractions.
If they are allowed to sit back and not participate, it’s too easy for them to become sidetracked.
“It is a best practice in the virtual classroom to engage the learners every three to five minutes so it’s not a passive experience,” Satterfield says.
Engaging the learners might involve asking them a question, having them take a poll, or prompting them to interact in the group chat pod.
Successful trainers reach out in a variety of ways to keep learners thinking and engaged. Getting them deeply involved in the subject helps them learn new skills.
Use virtual classroom training to teach the right kind of skills.
“In the training world, there are three types of skills that we teach: conceptual, interpersonal, and technical,” Satterfield says. “As corporate trainers, we often deliver training on conceptual or interpersonal skills. Both work very well in a virtual environment.“
Conceptual content involves thinking or analytical skills. Because you don’t need to be in the same room with somebody to practice those skills, they are ideal to teach in a virtual environment.
Interpersonal content involves any kind of human-to-human interaction. Again, virtual classroom training is a great option.
But things get challenging when it comes to technical skills, which involve interaction between a human being and an object, whether it’s machinery, tools, or a product. While it’s not impossible to teach technical skills in a virtual classroom, it can be more difficult because you need some way to replicate the object for realistic hands-on practice.
“I’m not saying you can’t do it, but you have to get creative when it comes to teaching technical skills in a virtual environment. At that point, maybe consider a blended approach to allow some practical hands-on experience in addition to the training and activities in the virtual classroom,” Satterfield says.
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Take advantage of all the capabilities of your virtual platform.
For training professionals who are getting ready to design or facilitate training in a virtual environment, it’s crucial to take an inventory of the tools and features available in their platform.
“This is one of the biggest areas of opportunity for most training professionals who are preparing to either design or facilitate training in a virtual environment. They don’t know how much their software is capable of. They need to take the time to find out,” Satterfield says.
Make the most of the features available in your platform or software, and you’ll make the most of your virtual classroom training.
Time your virtual classroom training sessions carefully.
“In the virtual classroom, the sessions are going to be much shorter compared to a traditional classroom setting,” Satterfield says. Most virtual sessions last from one to three hours, with two hours being ideal. This provides enough time for presentation and practice, without causing cognitive overload.
Also, it’s important to include a five to 10-minute break after every hour of training.
Scheduling also requires some consideration. Ideally, only one session should be conducted per day. If there are multiple sessions for one course, they should be scheduled on consecutive days. If multiple classes need to be scheduled on one day, you should allow at least one hour between classes.
Reinvent your training materials.
If you simply use your existing training materials, without adapting them for the virtual classroom, you risk ending up with an overwhelming lecture that sends participants wandering off to check their email or social media.
“It’s a little more involved than just taking your slides and your lesson plan and putting them online. There is a process to it. Rome wasn’t built in a day, and good virtual classroom training isn’t either,” Satterfield says.
While a virtual classroom is just as effective as an in-person classroom when it comes to learning, the structure of the class itself is different. Because of that, your training materials need to be structured specifically for the virtual environment.
Achieve More in the Virtual Classroom
The key to designing a successful virtual classroom training program is to think of it as a new way to reach and engage learners, rather than a webinar or simply an online version of an in-person class.
If you utilize all of the capabilities of your platform and structure your sessions for the virtual classroom, those who take your class can interact, get deeply involved in the subject-matter, and gain the skills they need to succeed.