Virtual Classrooms in Workplace Learning – Do They Add Value?

As organisations have been digitalising learning and training, we’ve seen many opting for largely asynchronous methods. While self-paced learning can be a great value-add, it requires a certain degree of learning culture in the organisation. However, it’s unlikely that any organisation is able to cover all its training needs via these methods. Some topics do need active facilitation or down-right training. In such cases, organisations again face the challenge of scalability. Initially, companies employed webinars to solve this challenge, but conventional webinars have been challenging as a medium. However, as the technologies have matured and we’ve refined the methods, the concept of the virtual classroom has come about.

What’s a virtual classroom?

While the actual technical tools between corporate virtual classrooms and webinars or video conferences are rather similar, the difference comes from the methodological side. Conventionally, webinars for instance have been quite a passive and one-way medium, resembling a lecture delivered to a large audience. However, virtual classrooms are more collaborative in nature. They are designed to facilitate all the different levels of interactivity and are more learner-centric in nature. The instructor is not there just to go through content and provide a live voice track to a powerpoint, but rather to facilitate discussions and prompt the learners to engage in different ways.

In addition to just displaying content and video, these virtual sessions may be structured around different kinds of activities like user polling, discussion boards, group chats, sharing of user-generated content or smaller, private breakout sessions.

Different corporate use cases for the virtual classroom

Now, there are a lot of different use cases for these kinds of tools. Here are a few that we picked that might provide further value-add in corporate use.

Collaborative learning experiences

Often the real value of getting people together is in the possibility to collaborate. Thus, once you have that, it doesn’t necessarily make sense to use the virtual face-to-face time for lecturing or going through content. Rather, a virtual classroom session is a good opportunity to do more collaborative learning activities. For instance, you can use the time for discussions and reflections to develop shared understanding of the topic in question. Hearing your peers’ reflections on a topic or the way they’ve executed it in practice can be very valuable. Furthermore, you could also extend such collaborative approach to solve real business issues through problem-based learning.

Expert-led sessions

It’s hard to get people in the same place at the same time, especially when the people are busy and sought after experts of their own field. However, a virtual classroom approach may give more opportunities for that. For instance, an expert panel discussion or a fireside chat would be quite convenient to organise in such format. On the other hand, the approach might be useful for e.g. senior leaders in a global organisation to communicate vision and strategy and open themselves for discussion and elaboration on such topics. While we don’t think that these can ever totally replace e.g. company town halls, for some uses they might be the conscious, smart option.

Virtual coaching

Coaching is arguably one of the most powerful modalities of learning. It’s intimate, it’s personal, it’s supportive. However, conventional coaching can be expensive and faces the same challenge as other face-to-face formats when it comes to scheduling. Again, virtual classroom could help to solve some of that. Coaches could engage both groups and individuals remotely and interchangeably. For instance, a coaching session could consist of the coach delivering general level advice to a group. Then, the session could break into 1-on-1 sessions to provide personalised advice and support. Digital tools can also help coaches in managing their students and their progress.

Final words

Overall, there’s probably still a lot of value in synchronous learning methods such as the virtual classroom. However, smart organisations should try to use that face-to-face time in meaningful manner, leveraging on the opportunities to collaborate rather than lecture. In global organisations, this can not only provide major cost savings, but also help to connect people and develop shared understanding across different cultures. If you’re looking to leverage virtual classrooms, or struggling to get your trainers to shift away from lectures, we may be able to help. Just contact us here.

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