The key software needed for a virtual training initiative is the virtual classroom platform. Sometimes it’s called a web conferencing program, an online collaboration platform, or virtual meeting software. I typically refer to it as the virtual classroom software program or the virtual classroom platform.
These platforms contain a variety of features that are used for group collaboration and interactivity. For example, facilitators can ask questions through a poll, or by asking participants to respond in chat. Whiteboards allow for group brainstorming. Status indicators let participants respond to yes or no questions or raise their hands. And breakouts let smaller groups of participants get together for role plays or team discussions. For a description of the most common platform tools, there’s a list at the end of chapter 2 of Virtual Training Tools and Templates.
It’s important to note that most virtual classroom software programs are part of a suite of similar products offered by a supplier. For example, Cisco WebEx has four products: Event Center, Meeting Center, Training Center, and Support Center. And there is Citrix GoTo-Meeting, GoToTraining, and GoToWebinar. This is important because each product includes different features. For instance, one product might have public chat, while another product from the same supplier might only allow for private chat.
When you are selecting a virtual classroom platform, it’s helpful to see it in action before making a purchase. If you’re able to view a demonstration of the platform, here are some questions to ask:
- Which product or version of the platform is being demonstrated?
- What other products or versions of the platform exist?
- What’s unique about this platform?
- What specific tools and features are available in this platform? Will you demonstrate each one?
- How many hosts or presenters can be in a session at the same time?
- How many participants can be in a session at the same time?
- What tools or features are only available to hosts or presenters?
- What privileges can be granted to participants?
- How many simultaneous breakout rooms can an event have?
- How are virtual events created? What information is needed to create an event? Is there a calendar plug-in for invitations?
- How does the platform handle Internet bandwidth and connectivity issues?
- What audio options are available with this platform? If integrated conference calling is available, what are its features and limitations? For example, are international numbers available in the countries where we have office locations?
- How does the license model work for this platform?
- Is this platform compatible with our learning management system?
For more tips on how to choose a virtual classroom platform, check out my new book, Virtual Training Tools and Templates.