COVID-19 has interfered with virtually every aspect of our lives and functioning – talk about a virus that really knows how to be unpopular!
Given the magnitude of change we are all dealing with in our organizations, naturally L&D teams are also hard-hit. Almost every organization has some part of the learning curriculum delivered by classroom training. Even in primarily eLearning-driven companies, you would find typically at least the leadership development programs having a classroom component. Sometimes, with a large frontline or very service-oriented industry, again, classroom trainings for certain topics have been indispensable.
With the way things have suddenly been disrupted by COVID-19, Virtual Instructor-Led Trainings or VILTs are a training format worth considering anew. Training cannot stop in a crisis; if anything, effective, supportive and timely interventions can become absolutely mission-critical.
Before we delve into VILTs, let’s consider other similar terms that are used. We at Upside prefer the term ‘VILT’. The reason for this will be clear once we look at the other similar formats: you may have also heard of online lectures, webinars, and online training.
Online lectures imply exactly that – you watch the instructor like you are attending a lecture, only you’re seeing them on a screen and not directly before you in real life. This is a format very popular even with huge virtual universities like MIT Open Course Ware.
- As you can see from the example, these online lectures can be a complete, scholarly experience with supporting assignments, assigned reading and so on.
- They can be a one-off or a sustained series.
While you have the illusion of being in a classroom because you get to see the teacher in action as though you were there, you miss out on a critical component of classroom engagement as a student – you’re not there, this is not synchronous, and so you don’t get opportunities to interact during the lesson.
Second, we have the webinars. Webinars are more common in a corporate context but they serve a slightly different purpose – they are meant to be informative not pedagogical. The focus is on the subject than the teaching or the audience. Typically, the webinar format is a slideshow that is accompanied by elaboration and perhaps a little explanation. These are synchronous sessions although recordings might be preserved for reference, so audiences may get to interact (albeit in limited ways).
Webinars are useful when the learner’s purpose is knowledge acquisition through information gathering. They assume that the learner has the requisite grasp of foundational concepts and terminology, and is capable of independently applying metacognitive techniques to drive their own learning once they are offered information.
- Webinars deliver information without any scaffolding or necessarily considering the audience mix or level of prior knowledge.
- There is very limited opportunity for audience interaction – typically, while there are Q&A portions, these are usually for short durations so that the presentation can be delivered as intended. Think of webinar dynamics as similar to meetings.
In intent, compared to the other terms we’ve seen, online training is closest to VILT, though it is still very misleading a term because online training can be so many more things! Online training is simply when teaching happens online – that can even be through pure eLearning with no facilitator, a simulation, a learning game… So, if you know your online training, ‘online training’ is a poor term! If you don’t, I guess it’s at least clearer than the others. For the purpose of this discussion though, let us take it at face value intent and say it means ‘having a person teach you, but it happens online instead of face to face’.
Because it’s so fluid a term, it makes sense to skip this one’s pros and cons and instead directly consider VILTs next.
A virtual ILT happens just like a classroom session, only you aren’t in a physical room with the other learners and facilitator/instructor, and you use a virtual space as you would in a web meeting. It’s synchronous, you have to be there for the session at the planned time (although a recording may be made available for later reference). You can engage as you would in a classroom, raising doubts, offering ideas or perspectives, asking for clarifications, answering challenges set by the instructor, and so on. There could be group work, assignments, individual tasks, resources, supplementary or pre-requisite materials depending on the design chosen by the instructor.
- There is opportunity for customized feedback to individual or groups of learners; opportunity for learners to learn from each other’s questions, and feedback.
- As a learner, there is also opportunity to freely engage as much as you would in a classroom.
- A good design makes this a very rich instructional format, with adequate supporting ‘e’ elements of training, such as pre and post assessments.
- The classroom format, even with the virtual component, is best for cognitively complex subjects and performance needs.
- This is also a fantastic format to consider when the human element is significant (e.g. for a topic like conflict management, critical stakeholder-facing or customer-facing tasks)
- Session design has to be smartly done, or the instructor will end up under a much bigger workload – there is simply a lot more to track on the screen during delivery than just making a presentation.
- A set of technical skills and knowledge which has nothing to do with training or teaching are still required to implement this option successfully.
- The set-up of the classroom requires careful planning and preparation. For example, when we have migrated to online remote working during this crisis, a simple consideration – we may not all have whiteboards at home to write as we teach!
- You cannot see the body language of learners as you teach – you can only evolve some intelligent design features to compensate for the lack of this big source of feedback on engagement and understanding
- As a learner, you have to stare at a screen for way longer than an online meeting. Hopefully the instructor or instructional designer considers this and designs the session appropriately!
So… What’s Next?
Well, that was quite a bit to think about, wasn’t it. What we’re going to do, is offer a series exploring various aspects of VILTs in depth, keeping in mind the non-ideal and ad hoc circumstances under which most of us are working now. If your company already has a better setup in place, great – you have more options! But if it doesn’t, we’re going to help you ensure that you can still successfully run effective trainings even with minimal infrastructure and even by just ‘making do’.