Introducing Virtual Classrooms

In this article by Lisa Johnson (Assistant Director of Information Services) at global children’s charity Barnardo’s looks at the implications of introducing the virtual classroom into the organisation.

Online tutoring, virtual classrooms, live online learning, webinars, online seminars – whatever you refer to them as this is a means of delivering a virtual learning experience to a group of learners through a web based portal or software such as WebEx, Adobe Connect, GoToMeeting.

We first introduced this technology back in 2005 using a basic tool called Juniper that we found our IT team using.  As our expertise grew and we wanted to increase the use of this delivery method we started to use WebEx to deliver what we refer to as a ‘virtual classroom’ or ‘VC’  which is an event that one trainer will host for up to one hour for a maximum of 12 delegates depending on the level of interactivity required. The sessions delivered by my team are all focused on helping IT users develop their knowledge of the potential of  our IT systems and how they can use functionality effectively to complete specific business tasks and improve their performance, efficiency and productivity.

The introduction of virtual classrooms for us followed a five step process:


Five step process for introducing a new learning technology

How did you introduce virtual classrooms?

Step 1: Identify need/use
Step 2: Choose an appropriate produce
Step 3: Invest in training trainers
Step 4: Provide time for trainers and delegates to play with the tool/technology and feedback
Step 5: Find the hook that will support implementation i.e what will engage your learners and encourage them to use it?

Step 1: Identifying the need

With any technology there is a need to understand how this will help you achieve the desired business objectives and its potential use to ensure you get the right solution in place.

Our approach is to immerse ourselves in the user experience by attending free sessions offered externally.  This enables us to experience this delivery method as a learner would and provides us with an opportunity to share our experiences of what did and didn’t work for us.
We  then get our hands on the technology to get a feel for how this could be used to deliver content online.  The additional level of use feeds into a matrix which is a simple spread sheet containing all of the sessions that we deliver in the left column with a mapping of whether or not we felt this lent itself to an alternative method of delivery.  When we initially did this mapping for introducing virtual classrooms we identified 25 potential uses.

Step 2: Choosing the right product

The next stage was to find the right product.  We researched and tried a number of free ones before initially signing a contract with Arkadin and later ending up in a partnership with WebEx.

The reason we chose this product was that:

It was the market leader at the time – I’m not sure where it is now in the mix!

It was fully hosted by WebEx and worked with our existing IT infrastructure including integrating with Outlook

It could be branded to make it look and feel like a product that belonged to our organisation

It was fairly simple and easy to use

We could customise the settings to set up our own templates for sessions reducing set up times for hosts

We identified that it would reduce our administrative overhead as we could move all of the bookings for these sessions online and offer self registration

We could record sessions for playback after the event (useful for developing training/hosting techniques and as a reminder for delegates)
it had a simple pricing model and I managed to negotiate a good price for enterprise licenses!

Step 3: Train your trainers


Make the investment in training

The Towards Maturity New Learning Agenda 2013-14 benchmark study found that:

78% of L&D teams responding to their survey used virtual classrooms as a delivery method BUT only
29% agree that they have the skills to do it!

It is essential that trainers have the skills they need to use the learning technologies and understand the benefits and value that their use can add. They must believe in the approach –  if you approach it as second best to classroom training this will impact the quality of the training.

Trainer skills:

If your trainers are used to delivering in a classroom environment some skills will transition easily into the virtual classroom as they still need to:

Be a good communicator and able to deliver content in a way that people can learn

Be knowledgeable about the content they are delivering

Be able to manage the session in a timely manner

Be open to feedback and able to take this on board so that they can continually enhance the session

BUT there are new skills that they need to have to ensure that they are effective online.

What are the kind of things that can go wrong in a conference call?


Take a look at this YouTube video: A conference call in real life….


Recognise any of that?  The same things can happen in your virtual classroom so trainers must:

Have a voice that engages people online

Not be afraid of the technology – they need to be confident in its use

Be able to deal with technical glitches in a calm and controlled manner

Be able to develop content for the screen (people read content differently online) and be capable of building various levels of interactivity into their sessions.

Be able to multi task online often managing the delivery of content whist keeping an eye on and managing the various online cues such as messages in the chat and/or Q&A; indicators against each delegate in the form of icons such as “you are going too fast, you are going too slow, I’m off for a coffee or I’m no longer paying attention as I’ve switched into my emails!

Be able to manage the session in an even more timely manner not letting it overrun and not underestimating the amount of time required.

Stage 4: Play


Even when your trainers are “trained” don’t throw them straight into virtual classroom delivery without giving them a chance to play!

Let them experiment with the technology and deliver to each other taking on board constructive feedback to enhance the next session.

During this stage they will learn a lot by experimenting with content, session duration, participant numbers, interactions and functionality until they have the confidence to go live with real learners.

Stage 5: Find the hook!

During the ‘play’ stage we found that the most common bits of feedback we received was that delegates didn’t know what to expect by attending a virtual classroom but once they had been on a session they were hooked.

Taking this on board we launched an Introduction to our organisations technology virtual classroom into our induction process and all new starters were required to sign up to this  within their first week.

This helped us engage new people from the off and gave them an experience that alleviated any anxiety and encouraged them to book more sessions as part of their induction to the point that most people now look for a virtual classroom offering before even considering asking for face to face training.

For staff that were already in the organisation we took an IT system that the majority would use everyday and identified some time saving tips and tricks that we could share with them in a virtual classroom environment.

We put together a communications and marketing strategy and used local communication channels to send out invites to our users.  All of the sessions were promoted as time savers and delivered initially by local trainers as people knew them and trusted them but once we saw the number of learners signing up for sessions increasing we began to move away from local to central delivery of virtual classrooms giving us more flexibility for any trainer being able to deliver them for any group of people across the organisation.

Considering introducing virtual classrooms into your organisation?

If you are considering introducing virtual classrooms as a delivery method in your organisation, I recommend you follow the process above and work to find the hook  – what session will appeal to the masses and get them to take their first step into the virtual learning arena?

I suggest that you check out the following from the Learning and Performance Institute – Certified Online Learning Facilitator (COLF). COLF empowers you to deliver memorable and effective live online learning events. Suitable for all trainers delivering webinars, online classrooms and online meetings.

Click here for further information.

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