vILT: Why it fails

Written by Michelle Moore and Renu Sharma on 22 October 2015 in Features
Features

Michelle Moore and Renu Sharma provide a guide to successful virtual instructor-led training.

Virtual instructor-led training (vILT) has become one of the fastest growing modalities of online learning. Despite its popularity, there is a right way – and a wrong way – to create vILT experiences, which can make or break a training programme.

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vILT fails due to technology breakdown, poor course design, lifeless instructors and unprepared or disengaged students. There are five key factors to consider when developing a vILT training programme that will help steer clear of failure:

  • Programme goals
  • Environment
  • Engagement
  • Delivery
  • Content

Programme Goals

Not every instructor-led-training programme will translate to vILT, as it requires a very different design, approach and level of interactivity. This involves developing goals around the curriculum itself as well as goals that will foster dynamic learning in a virtual environment. Keeping this in mind, you should ask yourself the following:

  • What should the students take away from the class that they can apply at work?
  • Can the curriculum be broken down logically into short, incremental modules (what is not enough and what is too much?)
  • Is the class designed for individual students or a team?
  • Should it simulate the traditional classroom or should it have a unique, customised design and experience?
  • Are students engaged before, during and after the class?
  • Is the organisation technically ready to support vILT?  
  • Have technical readiness expectations been discussed with the sponsor?

Taking a strategic perspective with defined goals will lead to well-designed training programmes.

Environment

Instructional designers have to be aware of both the classroom setting as well as the student’s virtual environment when developing vILT curriculum with technology acting as the bridge between the two.

For the classroom, technology should encourage collaboration, interaction and participation. The trick is making it invisible. Instructors should be thoroughly trained on the collaboration software and be able to effortlessly guide the virtual conversation through user-friendly video, audio and collaboration controls. Designers should also ensure that the technology can be easily scalable to fit any size classroom.

Complementing the technology platform, a virtual classroom assistant (VCA) plays an important role in delivering a smooth experience for both instructor and student. The VCA brings the technical knowledge of the platform and should be included in planning the virtual classroom structure in addition to providing behind-the-scenes technical support during class. The VCA enables the instructor to focus on course delivery, ensures everything works smoothly and is available to quickly address technical issues should they arise.

For the student, technology can act as a major distraction in the learning environment if not used properly. Email, phone calls, texts and social media are major diversions while in class. Prepare the student ahead of time by setting up guidelines that will ensure they are engaged when class begins:

  • Turn off your phone/mobile devices
  • Test your technology in advance (Internet connection, security settings, software downloads, etc.)
  • Become familiar with collaboration tools that will be used during the course.

Engagement

Technology also promotes engagement before, during and after the training programme. Chat features, whiteboards, polling, file sharing and virtual breakout rooms empower instructors as if they are in-person with their students and should be leveraged throughout the learning process to keep students engaged.

  • Use polling to gauge understanding of the materials presented before, during and after the class.
  • Use white boards instead of slides to increase participation and put theories and concepts to work.
  • Use chat rooms, virtual breakout sessions and file sharing during the session, to encourage students to share their experiences and knowledge with each other as well as formulate questions.
  • Use other tools such as learning management systems, shared document hosting, and social tools to provide documents and instructions before and after the engagement.

Without a high level of engagement, vILT will definitely fail.

Delivery

While technology enables vILT, it’s the instructor who delivers it. vILT requires instructors to be facilitators of learning, not professors who lecture. Instructors must be skilled communicators, personable and animated in order to deliver successful vILT. They should be aware of their students’ understanding of the content so they don’t get ahead, which causes confusion and can negatively impact participation. Proper training on the technology platform as well as appropriate teaching methods for the virtual classroom should also be required. In the end, good instructors create a positive, productive learning environment, which leads to satisfied students and returning clients.

Content

Lecture-structured content may not work in a vILT programme, which requires learning to be distilled into salient points as well as engaging. Visuals and interaction should be balanced so the class flows logically, not chaotically, and fosters a continuous, natural conversation between the instructor and his or her students. Small group exercises and activities should be built into the design to increase engagement. Achieving this balance is difficult, but can be achieved by avoiding the following pitfalls:

  • Content designed for the wrong audience – individuals versus groups
  • Poorly planned structure that does not allow enough time to complete exercises
  • Lack of variety in multimedia (videos, images, animations, etc.)
  • Long classes that cause students to burn out and disengage
  • Copy heavy materials and visuals.

vILT is here to stay and will continue to evolve as technology allows. The key to success is avoiding failure through proper planning, preparation and talent to bring it all to life.

 

About the author 

Thelma Michelle Moore is Manager of Blended and Online Learning and Renu Sharma is Director of Online Learning at TwentyEighty Strategy Execution.

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