We have all been in on terrible virtual meetings… I blame Skype a bit… I think its because they have been around the longest. Most of us international folk have been Skyping (term not yet to make the English Oxford Dictionary) for years. You see we have a love hate relationship with it. The excitement of being able to see loved ones for free and live but with the major frustration of grainy images and voice dropping out. It’s getting better especially with the launch of their corporate product Skype for Business.
So when I start talking about live online training and virtual ‘stuff’ people immediately think ‘urgh’, poor internet connections, people multitasking in the back of the meeting reading their emails whilst listening in. No wonder people think live online training is less personable and effective than face to face, but I am not talking about skype meetings.
Well that’s the issue… it’s really broad. Anything that essentially involved the internet, that could be a virtual meeting like Skype, or maybe an eLearning module (usually a one-hour content and quiz based learning course), it could be a Learning Management System that houses lots of video and reading content or maybe a Social Learning Platform where people comment and share ideas or even a MOOC (Massive Open Online Course) where 1000s of people sign up and listen live, watch videos. It could be a webinar or webcast (more in a bit) or finally but least unlikely a virtual classroom. Confused much yet… me too!
The issue is when people thinking about online learning the go to thought process is eLearning. These are usually standalone modules for about 30minutes to an hour where the participant at their computer/device reads content, perhaps listen to videos, can play with some gaming functionality and normal sits some kind of quiz. Done well they can be excellent…. informative, fun, engagement with a clear understanding measurement. But it’s not live and you are not with others.
Mostly people think of virtual meetings like Skype or a video conference meeting. Virtual meetings are usually you at your desk computer with a webcam and often one person talking and everyone else listening. Fine for team and project updates but this is not training. Too often learning practioners fail at the first hurdle by trying to use a meeting product instead of a training product to train. Similarly, video conferencing, is a room of people speaking to another room of people with not much interaction, mainly again with just one person speaking (usually with the video camera positions so far away people look like pin heads). Not great.
The next live piece which most people think of when we talk about live learning is webinars or webcasts. And these give the learning sector a bad name too. Don’t get me wrong they absolutely have their place. A webinar is usually for lots of people. Let’s say more than 20. The presenter can speak and share their PowerPoint. Usually the participants can ask questions over the text chat function and answer polls. This is basically a lecture with a Q&A. Excellent if you intend to lecture but not the right platform for live interactive workshops.
The third product in most virtual suites are virtual classrooms. These mirror exactly what goes on in the classroom. Think smaller numbers ideally less than 12. Think everyone invited to speak by raising their emoticon virtual hands. Think everyone contributing and commenting through shared text chat function and audio lines being able to connect into smaller groups and create break out rooms for smaller activities. Think people sharing emotions through emoticons of smiley faces and clapping hands, using ticks and crosses to agree and disagree. Think everyone you do in the classroom there being a functionality for it live online. This is live interactive learning, everything you do in a class room live online! Amazing. Yet, you can’t just have a 10-minute tech session and off you go, learning to manage the technology and facilitate a group online is a skill.
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