I was really pleased and proud to be asked by @Kategraham23 to be part of the panel on the recent eLearning Network webinar entitled Ten things you always wanted to know about live online learning but were afraid to ask!
I was in illustrious company with @Viv_Cole , @Philipgreen and @Brighttweet making up the other panel members, and whilst I don't consider myself to be an expert I was looking forward to sharing my own adventures into live online learning.
There were over 40 questions submitted and these were then whittled down to 10, 3 of these questions were given to me and I wanted to share the notes I made on my journey back to Manchester after the session.
Q1) What virtual classroom technology would you recommend?
Following Learning Technologies in 2008 I set up a free 2 weeks trial of WebEx and designed a session that used as much of the functionality as possible and made it as interactive as I could and delivered it to my then leadership team. We agreed a permanent licence and since then have used it to facilitate focus groups, team meetings, workshops, systems training both on and off shore and we are now transforming a selection of traditional courses & workshops in to online format. Last year we did some more thorough research and looked at
- Adobe Connect - which we'd had a free trial of in the past
- Dim Dim
- MS Live meeting
Whilst some had unique differences (including cost & licence model) we have continued to use WebEx has our preferred supplier due to its simplicity and it gives us everything we need. We use Meeting Centre the most and you could argue that this isn't a specialist VC tool, it certainly isn't as advanced as Adobe Connect the tool we were using. However it is flexible and cost effective and we have combined it with other tools such as Genesis teleconferencing to add more flexibility and we can record the sessions. I've put the tool through its paces and really pushed what can be achieved, some things have worked really well and others haven't but we've learned along the way and shared our successes. Everyone will have a personal preference based on their experience so there is no right or wrong answer just go with what works for you.
The last thing to mention that was a contributing factor is our existing technology, different operating systems, versions of IE and Flash did have a bearing on what tools worked effectively.
Q2) What factors influence the success & failure of a Virtual Classroom in terms of effectiveness?
- Totally dependent on the size of the class, content and length of the session. Background noise (distractions) and experience of facilitator and class attendees.
- Design of the session, structure & visuals important - limit amount of text on screen & use images where possible
- Engagement & interactivity e.g broadcast / push info then polls, emoticons /chat only - we also use two facilitators where possible to ensure questions aren't missed
- If smaller group then the aim is to base it on conversation and use the whiteboards, chat, voice, polls, sharing applications and where appropriate allow individuals to take ownership of presenters computer
- Breakout areas can be used effectively in the right situation for group work
- Peoples attitudes and willingness / confidence in using the technology - spend time at the beginning for 5 minutes acclimatising ppl to the tools - make it fun & human - be yourself , yes there are differences to online facilitation to face to face but being yourself is important and just like in face to face situations things won't always go to plan - don't panic it happens.
- Before session starts I like to allow drawing and take screen shots of the finished screen, we play wacky races, do text twisters and know your geography (group size permitting)
- Practice and rehearse
- Set expectations and recognise different levels of experience
- Pre-work / reading & positioning - if possible relate to things that have been done or in the process of being done then it's more relevant and not just theory
- Follow up - we record most sessions and more recently we personalise the chats (so they can provide evidence of participation) and add all resources to a shared online community to continue to the conversations and do follow ups via line managers.
- Keep it simple - Failure = trying to do too much or using tools for the sake of it, 1 way traffic (facilitator talking)
- Use polls to gauge feedback and use both multiple choice and freetext
Q3) How effective is Virtual Classroom compared to face to face training?
Wow, big question this.....in my humble opinion and experience they can be more effective than face to face training - but it of course depends on situation and content. Some benefits we've found:
- Big difference for us is reduction in travel and the ability to connect and use SME expertise
- Just in time performance support - can organise and get people together much quicker
- Much easier than organising a face to face event - reduces time away from role, enables us to be more proactive and specific in terms of learners.
- Some learners who aren't has confident in f2f situations are more comfortable using chat and engage more in online learning events
- Obviously not appropriate to use where human interaction is needed e.g role plays or behavioural stuff where reactions are critical.
- System training imo opinion is much better online - why you would organise a face to face session to cover a new system when you can facilitate , share system, use show me try me and record the session all online to use as reference
- It's a cultural shift for many, my journey started 4 years ago and I'm still learning and trying new things. There is STILL a huge barrier to overcome and that is peoples' perception that VC is just not an effective means of learning. This goes for L&D professionals as well as learners...
- Maybe the two shouldn't be exclusive or indeed compared and instead be used to compliment one another where ever possible to make the learning process more effective
That's it, they were my 3 questions and there were also some great points made by the other members of the panel. You can catch up on other tips via @elearningnetwk. I really enjoyed the session and would like to thank @kategraham23 and the @elearningnetwk team for the opportunity to be involved.
I hope you've found this useful and I'd love to hear where you are on your own journey towards using live online learning?
How would you answer those questions yourself?