Why companies need to transform classroom training for virtual learning

As the coronavirus crisis forced mass shutdowns of companies across America, typical in-person, classroom-style training sessions weren’t possible. Organizations had to rethink their approaches to training – in particular, moving to a virtual training model.

Digital and virtual learning programs were already on the rise before COVID-19 struck, and given the possibility that more people will be working remotely in the foreseeable future, virtual training likely will be more in vogue. But to ensure effectiveness a different instructional design approach is required for virtual learning.

The pandemic could spawn innovation in workplace learning. After months of social engagement and technological immersion, workplace learners and business leaders will have a higher expectation about how they want to engage and learn.

But you can’t simply convert an existing classroom into virtual instructor-led training. Instead, organizations need to transform their programs. Transformation doesn’t mean duplicating your current classroom training but rather improving the learning for virtual distribution. A successful transformation will actually result in greater learning effectiveness.

Here are some things to know about maximizing virtual learning and how to transform classroom training for effective virtual learning:

  • It isn’t about the technology or techniques. In a response to the virtualization movement, organizations are focusing on two components:  virtual classroom technologies (WebEx, Skype, Zoom, etc.) and virtual facilitation techniques. Companies are beginning to review their technology options for virtual classroom. What features and benefits do each provide? For example, some technologies allow for video, whiteboarding, document sharing, and virtual collaboration rooms. Although it is beneficial to have a set of virtual tools, the technology is secondary to how the training is designed. “It is the same with virtual facilitation techniques. The web is now full of tips and tricks for effective virtual facilitation. But these tips and tricks assume you are still utilizing a lecture format and showing slides. The foundation of effective learning is always instructional design, which results in the application of knowledge and skills and an associated competitive advantage.
  • Instructional design vs. traditional learning. Traditional learning is content-based and trainer-focused. Effective instructional design is problem-based and learner-focused. Traditional learning is focused on individual topics, whereas instructional design is multi-disciplinary learning, and you’re tested for application of knowledge. With traditional learning, you’re tested for memorization of facts.
  • Blended learning for effective transformation. Existing classroom materials need to be transformed into a blended learning approach. A blend that is specifically designed to be conducted virtually. There are three main components related to this blend. Self-paced digital modules should be short (micro-mods) and contain foundational knowledge. Virtual classroom, the second component, cannot be centered on a lecture format. Instead, the impetus for learning must be transferred to the learners. Performance support tools help learners apply their knowledge in the field and more rapidly gain expertise.

“Knowing that the coronavirus crisis will eventually pass, some organizations believe the movement towards virtual training will be temporary, but organizations that want to thrive and prosper in the future will not only transform their current training for virtual distribution, they will continue this approach to ensure they can withstand any adverse global events.

Dr Jim Guilkey (www.jimguilkey.com) is the author of M-Pact Learning: The New Competitive Advantage — What All Executives Need To Know. He is the president of S4 NetQuest and a nationally recognized expert in instructional design and learning strategy, with extensive experience in leading the design, development, and implementation of innovative, highly effective learning solutions. Before co-founding S4 NetQuest, Guilkey served as the assistant director of flight education at The Ohio State University. He received a BS in aviation and an MA and PhD in instructional design and technology from Ohio State.

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