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Getting Ready for the Virtual Classroom

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Tue Jun 18 2013

Getting Ready for the Virtual Classroom
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It sounded like a simple assignment: Write a short blog post on preparing for the virtual classroom. The real problem isn’t just how to help get people ready; it’s knowing which people need to be prepared. Let me explain.

On the surface, a lot of organizations treat moving at least part of their learning efforts to the virtual classroom as a single event. Set up a WebEx account (or Adobe, or GoTo Training, or whatever) and the move will seamlessly occur.  The problem, or at least one of them, is that users still need to be prepared for the switch—and knowing how we can help.

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There are three separate groups of people that must make the move (nearly) simultaneously in order to make the virtual classroom a successful part of your learning and development strategy: the trainers themselves, the learners, and the organization.

Why is it important that these separate parties work in concert? Because preparation by just one part of the learning equation will not amount to success if the other parts aren’t humming as well. For example, great class design is wasted if the participants aren’t comfortable participating or aren’t held accountable for even showing up. An instructor who is uncomfortable with the tools can seriously affect an organization’s plans to roll out a program or technology. And miserable participants are in no hurry to sign up for the next class.

What is the responsibility of each party?

The L&D department and trainers need to have everything organized. Learning content needs to be appropriate for the virtual learning environment, and this might involve some tough decisions and pushback to stakeholders. The phrase, “No, you can’t put 100 people in one class,” should be part of your vocabulary.  (Practice saying it. It’s fun).

Also, the people designing and delivering the material need to become fluent with the technology so that it’s not a distraction from the facilitation and learning transfer. This means training and practice. This will take time and budget to accomplish. (Admittedly, not as much fun to say.)

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The learners need to be comfortable in the online environment. If they’re stressed about the technology, or are more worried about how to use the whiteboard than the ideas it generates, it will be hard to have a successful learning experience. This will involve some work on the organization’s part as well as their own.

In order to help them use their online time effectively, perhaps a short tutorial or very explicit set of instructions on the tools they’ll use will help them understand what will happen and should be assigned as prework. Pre-class information and expectations need to be over-communicated to help prepare people, and to hold participants accountable for their participation (or lack thereof).

Perhaps the most important thing is for them to realize that time spent in the virtual classroom is every bit as “real” as time spent in a traditional one. If they block off time for a class, that needs to be sacred. It’s too easy to blow off virtual training every time someone calls or their boss beckons.

Organizational leaders need to understand what’s involved and offer support in terms of budget and (most importantly) supporting necessary behaviors. First, it needs to provide virtual classroom tools that can accomplish the desired objectives. Second, it has to provide sufficient training and budget to ensure the L&D team is offering a quality product. Finally, it must help create an environment where learners can be successful.

You’d be surprised how much it helps when managers get told they can’t just pull people away from virtual training on a whim, or that they’ll be held responsible (and their budgets affected) if people don’t complete multi-session programs.

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In our work with dozens of companies around the world, we’ve learned that “getting ready for the virtual classroom” takes all three sets of stakeholders working together to make it work.

How are you and your team doing?

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