We’ve been asked to conduct VILTs before. And we have. And we’ve even gotten good reviews. But we’d be lying if we said they’re easy, universally suitable, or even that organizing a good one is simple! I’m about to share with you our pooled experience with running a VILT from start to finish. Firstly, when it comes to conducting a virtual ILT, this is a lie:
The chances of a VILT session being an effortless affair where you’re comfortably scribbling the critical terms, naturally sketching diagrams as you teach and learners are paying full attention to you as you do this… well, let’s say they’re about the same as your phone battery not dying on you when you’ve forgotten your charger.
While there’s a lot that can go wrong, there are some unique advantages – but more than either of these, there are some very loaded considerations that can cut both ways. Let’s look at those, shall we?
Everything happens on the screen.
Your learners ideally should not take notes on the computer – it’s always better for learners to handwrite notes because that way, they remember things better. In a VILT, you also don’t want to encourage your learners to have multiple screens open to toggle and get distracted by. You want them to pay attention to your presentation content, and to maintain eye contact (so to speak) with you.
But let’s not forget as well that, right now, most of us are working from home. There is a basic assumption that there will be enough elbow room and desk space to be able to do this comfortably and still not be out of sight of the camera.
On the other hand, nobody is going to have to keep ducking around a taller person to see the facilitator or the content in a VILT.
Lack of physical presence.
That’s fantastic in terms of logistics cost, effort and, particularly now, health safety. You do not need your travel team to be involved in organizing the training at all. Now, instead, you will heavily need IT support.
But think about it – how many times do we use face-to-face trainings as a chance to network, to have quick catch-ups, to even get to know our colleagues better, to keep a finger on the pulse…? For especially liaising roles, it is crushing that this is impossible.
It’s not all negative though: the introverts are probably cheering wildly. And everyone must love not having to drag themselves bright and early to report to a session when they’re still staggering from jet lag!
But for facilitators, particularly ones who are experienced in classroom training, this is a huge blow. Teaching is half performance art.
You rely on building engagement, connection with your learners and a certain energy in your session through your very presence. You move and circulate to check on each learner and see how they’re faring – and now suddenly in a VILT, you have the most minimal feedback to work with, not to mention near-zero control. That’s profoundly unsettling.
Session value is in magnified focus.
In-person sessions are simply more attractive a prospect for facilitators and learners alike. So now, take out the nice hotel or conference facility booked for the day, the opportunity to travel, the catered food and activities, the chance to hang out with colleagues and change up the routine, the chance for murmured bonding over coffee or smokes, networking opportunities up the ladder and across divisions… you’ve only the content left. No wonder learners are highly critical of what online lectures have to offer!
If you have an audience that is used to digital learning, this may not be such a battle, they may easily incorporate VILTs as well into their learning culture. But if you have learners mainly used to classroom trainings, you should be aware that MOOCs (Massive Open Online Courses) – which are basically built-out online lectures – have an atrocious dropout rate – nearly 95%!
Facilitators have to be absolutely en pointe in their course design and delivery. There is a very low tolerance or forgiveness for rambling or low engagement teaching. But equally, there are some famous and highly recommended courses too, widely recognized for the caliber of the learning experience they provide.
Learners are in charge of themselves.
Learners are individually responsible now for making arrangements such as finding a suitable environment free of distractions, suitable devices (e.g. a tablet or laptop for many courses, rather than a smartphone), high-speed broadband, etc. Remembering the times we are living in, even in the States, none of this is a given. People are suddenly at home without daycare, many people are used to depending on their smartphones for internet, even foregoing a residential broadband subscription… and we cannot expect them to change any of that (even if they would) right now or for the foreseeable future.
This is of course, however, a huge organizational burden that is reduced! Training coordinators will find their work halved – not to mention, the drop in IT, admin, logistics and catering support needed to make all this happen.
Another aspect of learners being in charge of themselves is with respect to self-monitoring, in ways that typically are part of classroom management. The facilitator can no longer keep an eye on everyone to see who is getting distracted by their phone, who is checking work mails during a group exercise instead of participating, and so on. (And you’d be surprised, but this is especially important when training senior employees!)
Crisp delivery is non-negotiable.
In any mode of training, I’m sure crispness is appreciated by learners and optimizing seat time is always in the organization’s interests as well.
But you also simply cannot expect someone to sit for more than 2 or 3 hours for a VILT. People will get restless, plus it is a significant strain on the eyes.
Additionally, your own organization would have (hopefully!) taught learners good ergonomics and how it is important to rest your eyes and keep switching your gaze every 20 minutes. Whoever plans and delivers the session has to factor that and also build in breaks to let learners stand up and move around regularly without disrupting the flow of the session. (You cannot just invite people to move around when they want, the way you might in an ILT, because whenever someone moves the facilitator can see nothing to retain eye contact and engagement unlike in a physical classroom.)
But equally validly, there are going to be training requirements in organizations that will need more than 2 or 3 hours to fulfill. A stringent, inflexible need for brevity is a very double-edged sword indeed, because this rapidly becomes unreasonable for some contexts.
Everything happens on the screen – yes, it’s worth mentioning again!
In terms of training reuse or reference value – it is a two-in-one kind of winner that you can create a synchronous experience for learners, but also record the session for anyone who misses it or wants to refer to it later. (And there is always that annoyance of one person joining a week after the session, who needs the same session!) Such session recording is effortless because it’s all happening on a screen.
In the same way, walking through or even sharing assignments and group work is definitely more efficient in the online session (assuming the instructor has made the necessary arrangements in advance).
But, not all content is suited for bulleted presentations and this kind of ‘delivery from a distance’.
When it comes to soft skills content, psychomotor skills training or even core process change trainings, which require an element of persuasion for adoption, overcoming resistant attitudes, it definitely makes a difference to be physically together versus spread out in private little bubbles.
In conclusion, you can see based on all these considerations, deciding on a VILT is not something to be done hastily or without adequate evaluation on a case-to-case basis. It is by no means a one-size-fits-all kind of solution… But then, how else would life be interesting?!