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The Meaning of Virtual Classroom: It's More Than a Webinar

It may be a long time before we’re in traditional training sessions again. But that doesn’t mean companies aren't training—they’re going digital. There’s a lot of confusion around digital options. And one has been particularly unclear: the meaning of the virtual classroom.

If you do a Google search of the meaning of virtual classroom, about 229 million results come up, including:

· a live webinar
· education using a robot
· learners going through online content at their own pace
· online course using Internet technology
· collaborative learning.

There’s no clear definition. Some of these are accurate. Others? Not so much.

But there’s real urgency to understand a true virtual classroom . It can radically change leadership development.

What It’s Not
Learners going through online content at their own pace is an interesting description. But it’s a better description for other types of online learning, such as e-learning or web-based training. These types of learning are technology-enabled and accessed through a learning management system. The key here is the phrase “at their own pace.” Also called asynchronous learning, learners complete courses on their own. The biggest difference is a virtual classroom is done live with colleagues.

Many describe massive open online courses (MOOCs) as a virtual classroom. These feature on-demand lectures, videos, and tests so they can meet the requirement to be done in real-time as a group.
The difference? They lack real-time interaction. It’s not so different than watching TV. You’re all tuned in at the same time, but no one is talking to each other.

Webinars Are Different
People mistake webinars for a virtual classroom. But a well-designed virtual classroom shouldn’t be anything like a webinar. Webinars are ways to share information in a “one-to-many” format. They often have some limited interactivity, including chats or polling. Participants can’t see each other. There’s no sense of urgency or commitment. One-hour webinars are great for keeping on trends and thought leadership. But most don’t get much more out of attending live and could watch recordings.

What Is a Virtual Classroom?
A virtual classroom is a live online, instructor-led learning experience. People participate together at the same time. Most importantly, it should be collaborative. There should be a lot of activities and instructor engagement. Learners should have the chance to break out into smaller groups to connect and practice together. If I removed the word “online,” it’d be the same as a face-to-face classroom experience. When virtual classroom is done well, it should offer the same positive learning experience.

The Keys to Getting It Right
DDI has done this for more than a decade and has several tips and best practices. Here’s a few to get started:

  • Educate and prepare learners. Make sure everyone understands the format and the goals. You should set expectations that leaders will be active participants in the course. It is not a passive online course or webinar. Likewise, managers should understand the content and commit to supporting learners.
  • Create the proper environment with the correct tools. Learners need a computers, an Internet connection, and all the workshop materials. They also need to be distraction-free to fully focus on the experience.
  • Use the right platform—one with a variety of functions to ensure an interactive and engaging experience. These include chat, whiteboards, polling, annotation and feedback capabilities, and video. Breakout rooms play a big role in small group activities and skill practices. A simple technique like allowing learners to seat themselves at a virtual table creates a feeling of connection among learners.
  • Carefully select and train your facilitators. Some of your best classroom facilitators may not take naturally to the virtual format. It’s important to make sure facilitators update their skills to virtual experiences.
  • Engage a producer. A producer manages the technology, while the facilitator focuses on participants and learning. They should work like a well-choreographed team. That way, learners can focus entirely on the experience. Learn more about producer training here.

It’s Time to Go Virtual
It’s clear that virtual classroom can be a powerful learning experience that can connect leaders across distances and deliver powerful results.

Don’t hesitate. Take the classroom virtual.

Learn more about DDI’s virtual classroom experiences.

1 Comment
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It is so important and hard to gather all participants attentions in virtual classrooms. The key points of online sessions are that sharing ideas with the other people and being a team member. For instance; in our corporate academy we use online webinars to keep employees update about banking sector and our facilitators use some ice breaking activities or they practise some mobine phone apps such as Kahoot or polleveverywhere to see direct interaction.
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