Many people have asked me “what’s the difference between virtual classroom and online training?” In fact, people use these terminologies and often interchange virtual and online freely without understanding that they are dramatically different from each other. Both have specific purposes, benefits, and its own limitations. The only common ground among both are that they are both used for skill building and delivered digitally. Other than that, they are like chalk and cheese.
Online Training also called e-learning methodology is more like self-paced learning. The content is available 24 x 7 X 365 days and the learner can complete it as and when they plan. It is extremely cost effective. Online training is very common when it comes to technical skills training, safety trainings and behavioral trainings. In fact, when it comes to technical skills or safety skills training the gratification is immediate. You can see the application of the skills learned back on the job almost immediately and that at times demonstrate the ROI.
The lack of human touch
When it comes to behavioral trainings, the good news is that the content is available for almost any behavioral issue you can think of and the content is very engaging – but it lacks human touch. Like technical or safety skills where 2 + 2 is always 4, in behavioral science that may not be true. Two employees will react very differently to the same statement made by their manager because there are many variables involved. Hence, facilitated learning methods have proven more effective in behavioral content.
Due to technological advancement, the online learning portal can use AI to adapt and present the different types of content to the learner based on their preferences. This is a huge advantage for online training content, especially if they are open source. They can aggregate content from different content providers and make smart suggestions to the learner. However, a major challenge is that for most learners learning is not natural, and they undertake the task for compliance rather than for the love of learning. The adoption of online content in corporate is anything between 2% to 4% of the employee workforce. To increase the adoption rates organizations are providing incentives to learners, building a gamification environment where learners earn points and rewards at tangible milestones.
Virtual Classroom-banking on simulation
Virtual classroom - The term virtual means a simulation of the real thing; hence virtual classroom means a simulated classroom using the power of the internet. The term virtual classroom is not new. It has been around for the last two decades, but thanks to the COVID-19 pandemic, the world has come around virtually and the adoption to virtual classrooms has skyrocketed. This concept was designed to get learners around the world together on one platform for learning and exchanging ideas; just like we do in-person. While in schools and colleges it is used as a medium of teaching, in the corporate world it is used as a medium where a facilitator enables knowledge exchange and discussions to encourage peer learning.
The key here is that it is facilitated by a subject matter expert or a trainer on a specific topic. The facilitator comes prepared for the session and uses different modes of engaging the learnings like case studies, role plays, positive role model videos, discussion rooms, etc. Unlike online learning, the learner can ask questions to the facilitator or learn from his/her peers experiences. An added advantage is that such sessions can be recorded and archived for future reference of the learners. Thanks to technology now the learners can use a whiteboard to doodle during break-out sessions, prepare presentations and present to all, take live polls and much more. These sessions are relatively easy to schedule and are very cost efficient as compared to the in-person sessions.
However, it has some limitations – the first and foremost would be internet connectivity and speed, this can enhance or destroy the learning experience. Club that with any technological challenges that the learner might face once he/she joins the session. The second is the learner's attention span. No matter how engaging the learning experience might be at the end of the day it is very difficult to hold the learner’s attention. The learner can multitask while the session is live and you will never know. The last is the quality of the content developed for virtual facilitation and the facilitator’s skills in engaging in the virtual setup. Many believe that having a virtual platform means one has the license to train virtually; but it is not true. It takes time to build content that is designed for engaging the audience in the virtual setup. And even if the content is designed for enhancing the virtual experience of the learner, if the facilitator is not able to deliver effectively the whole experience can become a failed experiment. Your learners will switch off.
So, the BIG question? Which of the two is relevant? – I would say both. Virtual classroom and online training are designed with one simple objective, to help the learners learn effectively. Your job as a learning professional will be to dive deep and understand what the best way might be to help your learners learn.