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What Is Virtual Training?

When personal computers were introduced into the workplace and our daily lives, we used them to automate processes and simplify routines. It was natural for training to follow. Trainers began looking for ways to automate learning, and traditional training moved onto the computer.

At first it was called "electronic learning," or e-learning for short, because it was learning via computer. The term e-learning has evolved to refer to any type of training that requires a computer. Some people use the hyphenated spelling "e-learning" while others run it together "eLearning." Both versions are widely accepted.

After the introduction of the Internet and web browsers, trainers took advantage of this new technology. When you accessed training via the Internet, it was called online learning. This term has also evolved to refer to any type of training that requires a computer, whether the Internet is involved or not.

Online learning or e-learning?

Many people consider online learning and e-learning to be the same thing. Online learning naturally requires a computer and therefore uses electronic tools. However, you can distinguish between online learning and e-learning by looking at the learners' interaction. It's a very subtle yet important distinction.

Some online learning is self-paced, completed individually without any interaction with others. However, most types of online learning occur in conjunction with other learners. Learners collaborate with each other and with a trainer. Online learning is an umbrella term that refers to all types of interactive training that uses an Internet-connected computer.

On the other hand, e-learning more commonly refers only to self-paced individual training. Participants taking an e-learning course log in to a website and complete an assignment on their own. There is usually no interaction with other learners, or with a trainer. While the e-learning course uses a website, it is distinguished by its individual nature. Virtual training requires a computer with Internet access and has interactivity between the learners and a trainer. Therefore, "virtual training" and "online training" can be used interchangeably.

Synchronous versus asynchronous

Synchronous and asynchronous refer to the meeting time of the training. In a synchronous training event, the participants and trainer meet together at a set day and time. Synchronous training events usually use an Internet-based software program specifically created to host online meetings, events, and training.

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A participant in a synchronous training class receives a welcome announcement such as, "Class begins at 9 a.m. Eastern Time on Thursday, August 20. See below for location information and directions for accessing the room."

In asynchronous training, the participants and trainer do not meet together at the same time. Asynchronous refers to self-paced learning that occurs over time as the participants' schedules allow. Common tools used in an online asynchronous training event include threaded discussion boards, email messages, podcasts, and wikis. A participant in an asynchronous training class would receive a welcome announcement that might say this: "Sometime before Friday, August 14, log on to our class website discussion board and post an introduction. Your first class assignment will be due by Thursday, August 20. Send an email to your trainer with any questions or concerns."

Both synchronous and asynchronous training events usually include opportunities for collaboration and interaction between participants. In a synchronous event, the collaboration happens together in real time, and in asynchronous training the collaboration occurs intermittently over time. The two main differences between them are the software tools used to conduct the training and the timing of the events.

Face-to-face training versus virtual training

When the participants are together with the trainer in the same room, it's called in-person or face-to-face training (sometimes abbreviated f2f). When participants are separated by distance and meet online, it's called virtual training.

Virtual training can be audio-only by conference call. A training colleague recently told me that one of his clients wanted to do "virtual training." He assumed they meant an online synchronous delivery, only to find out they simply meant training via conference call. However, most virtual training also includes a visual connection via a shared website or collaboration software program.

Some might consider videoconferencing to be a type of virtual training. Participants are separated by distance yet are able to see one another on a video screen. Videoconferencing systems are typically located in corporate boardrooms. One distinguishing factor between videoconferencing and virtual training is the audiovisual technology required to make a videoconference happen. In addition, videoconferencing usually has a group of people gathered around the boardroom screen, while virtual training has only one person per online connection.

Note: This article is excerpted from Virtual Training Basics by Cindy Huggett.

Cindy Huggett has taught hundreds of training classes for a variety of audiences. Her participants have ranged from executives to frontline employees. She has spent the last 18 years in various training, consulting, and learning management roles and currently owns an independent consulting practice and is also a training performance consultant with AchieveGlobal; chuggett@gmail.com.

2010 ASTD, Alexandria, VA. All rights reserved.

About the Author

Cindy Huggett, CPLP, is an independent consultant, professional speaker, instructional designer, classroom facilitator, and author who specializes in workplace training and development. With more than 25 years of experience, Cindy has successfully designed curriculums, facilitated classes, and led training rollouts in almost every industry and every size organization. She partners with her clients to help them transition from the face-to-face to the virtual classroom, and works with them to design online and blended learning solutions.

Cindy is the author of three books on virtual training: Virtual Training Tools and Templates: An Action Guide to Live Online Learning (2017), The Virtual Training Guidebook: How to Design, Deliver, and Implement Live Online Learning (2013), and Virtual Training Basics, 1st edition (2010). She is the co-author of two Infolines, “Simple, Effective Online Learning” (2008) and “Designing for the Virtual Classroom” (2009). She’s also contributed to several compilations, including the ASTD Handbook: The Definitive Reference for Training & Development (2014) and 101 Ways to Make Learning Active Beyond the Classroom, and written several articles for TD magazine.

Cindy holds a master’s degree in public and international affairs from the University of Pittsburgh, and a bachelor’s degree from James Madison University. Cindy is also a past member of the ATD National board of directors and was one of the first to earn the Certified Professional in Learning and Performance (CPLP) designation. You can find Cindy sharing training tips on twitter as @cindyhugg, or on her website, www.cindyhuggett.com.

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