Delivering Engaging eLearning through Virtual Classrooms - Live from the CIPD L&D Show 2014

CIPD Learning and Development Show

It’s Day 2 of the CIPD Learning and Development Show in Olympia London and there’s been some great sessions today. As I write this I’m sat in the session on delivering engaging eLearning through Virtual Classrooms.

Lisa Johnson from Barnardo’s talking about their story of introducing live learning.   Lisa kicked off explaining that the delivery methods that they use in their L&D offering which includes Face to Face, eLearning, self-service, performance support and virtual classrooms.

“The adoption of this learning technology doesn’t mean that we have ditched traditional approaches” says Lisa.  “It just means we’ve got wider options within our L&D toolkit and we can pick and mix the delivery methods based on the business need and content we need to deliver.”

So how did Barnardo’s implement this? They started to introduce this technology in 2005. Lisa goes on to say that there were five core stages in getting live online learning up and running.

  • Identifying Use – Lisa says that “’s important to understand what new technology is going to help you to achieve in your business.  For us this was around immersing ourselves in the use of the technology as if we were a learner” says Lisa.  They approached this by the trainers signing up for sessions with various suppliers as learners and then critiqued these afterwards.  What was good? What did they like? What would they do differently?  Each six weeks they met as a group and shared what they have learned by using this technology. They built a matrix that showed topics on the left and delivery methods along the top.  From this they identified where they could potentially deliver some topics (or parts of some topics) online to support face to face learning.

  • Choose the right product – “We started to play about with a few free products and we played with a tool that we found our IT department were using.  If you’re in the early stages of looking at this, talk to your IT department, because it may be that they have something they are already using” Lisa says. When Barnardo’s went through that process they settled on Webex.  “The reason…”, said Lisa “…was that they were the leaders in the field.”  It also integrates with Outlook, a feature that they particularly like.  It also offered the ability to brand their site.  “Our learners like to think that our products have been designed specifically for Barnardo’s” Lisa went on to say. They also liked the functionality it can offer, such as desktop sharing, whiteboards, online chat, uses a number of visual cues which you need in a virtual environment – such as emoticons and engagement indicators. “We also liked the fact that it included a recording and playback facility” said Lisa.  “The learners can replay the experience as many times as they want.”  Lisa also went on to say it’s also good for trainers to record themselves so that they can critique their own skills in virtual delivery.


  • Train the Trainers – The next stage in the cycle was to train the trainers. In research Lisa and team looked at, 78% L&D teams were using some sort of live online technology, however only 29% felt that they had the skills required to use it to its full potential.  “In our experience it is absolutely essential to train you r trainers in the use of this technology. Even those that have years of classroom training experience have to make this transition.  “It is different, your trainers need to understand how it works, they need to understand the benefit of using this”, says Lisa.  “Our approach was to send our trainers on a course to learn these skills.”  Lisa makes reference to the Certified Online Learning Facilitator (COLF) course currently run by the Learning and Performance Institute.  Lisa then showed us a great video about a real life conference to demonstrate the real need to learn these skills.  You can watch this video by clicking this link.


  • Playing – This stage was where the trainers, with their new found skills and the chosen product.  “During the play stage we were able to experiment with different functionality, different numbers of learners and different interactions” Lisa explains.  This helped the trainers get really comfortable with how to use live learning.  “I’d hate to think we were expected to come straight out of training and be expected to use it straight away.  You need that opportunity to consolidate what you’ve learned and practice using the technology” says Lisa.


  • Finding the Hook – was the next stage.  They had identified the use, chosen the product, done some training and played with it.  Lisa says “They were ready to rock!” Next was to find the hook that would get people interested to get them engaged in live learning. They set up an introduction to learning technology as part of the induction process.  Included in this was a show around the Virtual Classroom and information on where to access online learning resources etc. It was a full introduction to learning technology tools in Barnardo’s. They made this part of the regular training for new starters.  “Following the event, we made sure that each learner got an email which signposted them to other sessions that would be useful to them”.  So with new starters sorted, the next question was; what about our existing employees? They created short, 15 minute sessions, for existing employees to show them the virtual classrooms.  They gathered feedback from the groups and then shared that feedback with future groups to really get the message out there through peer to peer conversations. “If it’s engaging, they will come back for more”, says Lisa.  “We made sure it was easy to access the Virtual Classroom, easy to access descriptions of the sessions and easy to book on.  “We also created a catalogue of events for people to sign up to” says Lisa.

In designing sessions, Lisa mentioned that they think a lot about how many should be in the group and how long the session should be. They tend to ensure sessions don’t last any more than one hour. Lisa went on to describe anything longer than that would be chunked up into separate sessions. For example, if you have content that takes a long time, you might run one session for an hour and then give people a practice sheet to go and try out their new skills before meeting back up for the next session. Learners can tap into all sessions or just the ones they need.

Some great advice here and a great process to follow when implementing live online learning into your organisations.

  1. Identify use
  2. Choose the product that best suits
  3. Train your Trainers the skills for live online learning
  4. Play with the technology and give your trainers the chance to do so
  5. Find the hook that will get people coming to and talking about your sessions

Lisa kicked off her presentation by saying that live online learning “…means we’ve got wider options within our L&D toolkit and we can pick and mix the delivery methods based on the business need and content we need to deliver.”  It’s important, I believe, to choose the right method for the content and business objective.

You can find more about  “Why Live Online Learning is good news for face to face training” in this podcast from DPG Student Ady Howes and DPG’s Mike Collins.


For more Tweets from me from the Learning and Development follow @dpgplc on Twitter.

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