In January 2021, Fosway released its latest report, ‘The Power of Virtual Classrooms in a Post-Pandemic World’. LEO Learning’s Principal Consultant, Geoff Bloom, and Director of Strategic Design, Andrew Joly, reflect on the report and discuss what the future of virtual learning might look like.
Initial Thoughts on the Report
Geoff Bloom: Based on our clients’ experiences and what we’ve seen over the last year, everything in this report seems fairly obvious at a high level. We conducted some of our own research in June 2020, and what came out was the clear importance of virtual classrooms. We’ve discussed the importance of virtual classrooms for years, but over the course of the pandemic, they have really come into their own.
Andrew Joly: Everything in this report completely maps with everything we’ve seen in key strategic pivots in learning in 2020. It would be fair to say that in the years prior to the pandemic, we’ve been focused more on asynchronous learning components—video drama, eLearning, etc—than live delivery. However, global clients at the front of the pack in terms of learning strategy were already well-versed in the world of virtual classroom delivery. In those organizations, the key pivots seen in the last year were instead focused on refining their distance learning strategies and adapting any remaining face-to-face (f2f) training into live online delivery.
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The Use of Technology and Tools
One of the stand-out statistics from the report was that 70% of organizations used Microsoft Teams to deliver their virtual classrooms and workshops, while only 10% deemed it suitable for their purposes.
GB: Systems like Teams and Google Meet are designed for broader corporate use, not necessarily virtual learning delivery. Both of them integrate well with their respective cloud or online storage, allowing for easy file sharing and collaboration.
While Teams, for example, may not have all of the tools available to deliver top-tier virtual learning, there are plenty of features available. It’s important to remember that there isn’t a virtual conferencing tool that does everything perfectly. A lot of organizations are relieved to just have something in place that they can use. And when it comes to expanding your virtual learning repertoire and adding more elements to learning design, there are plenty of tools with specific functions (like virtual whiteboards) that integrate well with Teams and other such systems.
AJ: There is a considerable difference between tools like Zoom, designed for smaller-scale meetings where everyone contributes, and things like GoToWebinar designed for large-scale webinar delivery. Each work for different types of virtual learning sessions. Classrooms or webinars, which I would classify as more than 30 people, would suit a GoTo-type tool, whereas more interactive workshops (less than 30) may be better suited to things like Zoom, Teams, or Adobe Connect.
It’s also worth considering what using these tools does to and for the facilitators. Switching to virtual delivery can be a bit of a ‘sink or swim’ scenario for facilitators and the capabilities of L&D need to be reassessed and in some cases, rebuilt. We learn fastest when we’re dropped in the deep end, and it’s my belief that many organizations have adapted well.
But the skills needed to facilitate a virtual classroom or workshop are vastly different from those required in-person, and I wonder if this has contributed to the responses in the report. You have to be much more organized and structured in your delivery. Unless you’re a pro, like Geoff, with plenty of experience in online delivery, it can be much more challenging to orchestrate activities off-the-cuff in a virtual setting.
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Learning From Sudden Digital Transformation
One of the quotes in the report reads:
“Virtual delivery has put a magnifying glass to the whole learning experience, especially the design of sessions and programmes”
During the conversation, Andrew asked if we could see virtual best practices crossing over into live learning delivery in the future.
GB: When it comes to virtual classrooms and workshops, there’s nowhere to hide. As a facilitator, you have less control and visibility over who enters the digital space. A sponsor or resident expert, for example, could drop into the session at any time, so you need to be much tighter in delivery, the technical side of things, and with fact-checking.
So yes, I think virtual delivery forces L&D teams and facilitators to really assess what they are putting out there. This can go one of two ways: people will either become more cautious or perhaps more ambitious as the technology provides opportunities that haven’t been available in live sessions.
As terrible as the circumstances for this all has been, this is the most exciting time for L&D in over 40 years. We have so many new possibilities and significantly wider adoption of learning technology as a means of delivery: 97% of respondents to the Fosway survey are using virtual classrooms as their main form of delivery.
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AJ: There’s an extent to which this can be seen as a new start for L&D. Similarly to the invention of PowerPoint, the availability of the tech doesn’t necessarily mean your delivery or learning will improve. It’s still very much a case of getting out of this technology what you put into it.
The technology itself isn’t the be-all and end-all, but it can be a fantastic gateway to learning transformation. We’ve had clients come to us and essentially say ‘we think we’re doing ok, but we know we can do better. Can you help us?’ And we’ve helped a number of organizations develop what was previously a several-day, in-person course into multiple virtual classrooms or workshops.
GB: Something to also consider here is the democratization of learning. Geographically dispersed workforces can now interact in a single session. The learning is much more widely available across organizations, and they can save a lot of time and money on travel. More employees can access the same training.
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