Some time ago, we were delivering a handful of courses every year to a global software company. We would fly out to their sites in places like Munich, Utrecht, and Cape Town, to deliver on-site classes. Their employees would wait until enough people within a reasonable distance wanted a class, and then it would be scheduled, with many people flying in from around Europe. After a while, we were approached by the learning and development (L&D) department with a request – could we deliver these classes in a live virtual classroom (LVC)?
One of the best reasons to make a change to a product or service is in response to a customer request. So, we worked with the organisation to select students who would be willing to take part in an experiment to run a certified class via LVC. With a group of engaged and enthusiastic students, the class was broadly successful. Feedback was good, the client was happy, and we gradually evolved our delivery practices, rolled out new courses, and collected data on the effectiveness of this way of learning.
Now, after several years, we can share some insights and data to help students, L&D departments, and trainers choose whether live virtual classrooms are right for them.
The basics: what is a live virtual classroom?
An LVC is an instructor-led training course, where a class joins an industry expert in a fully interactive course, following the same material as would be delivered in a traditional classroom, typically running over one or two full working days. This is distinct from:
- Online training, where learners work through pre-recorded media
- Webinars, where a live host broadcasts to a large audience
- Distance learning, where learners follow a programme of self-study, completing assignments with feedback from an instructor
There’s more info on our LVC setup here.
Is this good or bad for learning?
We’ve collected feedback data from the beginning of our use of LVC training. We have selected a two-year sample period where we have regularly run the following courses in traditional classrooms and as LVCs, using exactly the same course materials and content:
- Professional Scrum Foundations
- Professional Scrum Master
- Professional Scrum Product Owner
In each case, we use our learning management system to survey delegates at the start and end of the class, asking how confident they feel about five course-specific learning objectives. At the end, we ask questions about their experience of the class. The various charts below illustrate the results of the surveys, comparing LVCs with traditional classrooms:
Efficacy of LVC training
We ask delegates whether they would recommend the training course to a colleague on a sliding scale. The results are comparable, with both averaging a 4.5/5 star rating.
Expectations and Benefits
We’re keen to know whether a course meets the expectations of delegates and they have benefited. Both LVC and traditional training are rated highly in both cases, meeting expectations for more than 97% of our delegates for both mechanisms, and over 99% of delegates saying they benefitted from the LVC course.
How was the learning Environment?
The learning environment can have a dramatic effect on the learning outcomes for any delegate. This is as important in traditional classrooms as it is for virtual training and even the tiniest discomfort or inconvenience can detract from learning outcomes. Surprisingly for some, the virtual environment comes out slightly better in this regard, with 95% of delegates giving it a 5+ star rating, compared to 92% for the traditional classroom.
How was the pace of the course?
When we ask about the pace of a training course, we want to know delegates have time to absorb new ideas as well as keeping them engaged. In any training course we have a mix of learning styles and starting points in knowledge, so there will always be variation. Encouragingly, in both environments, trainers are effective at finding the right pace, with 95% of delegates judging the pace to be just right for LVC, compared to 96% in the traditional classroom.
Finally, we want to know how well the trainer delivered the course and how well they answered questions. Both assessed on a scale of 1-7, LVC training again compares well to traditional training. When asked “how well did the trainer deliver the course”, 98% of our delegates provided a 5+ star rating for LVC compared to 96% for the traditional classroom. And for “how well did the trainer respond to your questions”, 99% of our delegates judged this to be 5+ stars for LVC compared to 89% for the traditional classroom approach. It would seem, therefore, that trainers are able to achieve good engagement and respond well to the specific needs of the individual delegate.
Is this good or bad for the people attending?
Just like full-time distributed teams, working remotely adds a layer of separation that can amplify any underlying reluctance to participate or collaborate. Our experience of delivering training is that if people want to engage then there is nothing stopping them, and the experience is just as good as a traditional classroom. We do see people joining classes with an expectation of being passive or doing other things. As trainers, we have found a few simple practices to help mitigate potential problems:
- Pre-course information to let people know what to expect and encouraging people to take responsibility for their own learning
- Mixed learning styles, including short lecture segments, small group breakout exercises, polls and quizzes, interactive tools, class projects, and whole class discussion
- Active facilitation and the establishment of class working arrangements at the start
- Combining sensory inputs to keep engagement high, such as explaining an idea verbally while annotating a screen to draw attention to supporting visuals.
There are two significant advantages for people attending LVC classes:
- Access to training. When we began to offer training via live virtual classrooms for one client, the average number of classes we delivered for that client increased three-fold. There were dozens of classes that simply would not have run, and learners would have missed out, especially those who don’t live or work near major centres. This applies to individuals in large companies, as well as whole companies in remote regions. We’ve delivered online training to whole teams on several occasions, where the local provision simply wasn’t there.
- Speaking personally, after a traditional class I often arrive home after days away, exhausted by travel. After an LVC class I stroll in from my home studio, relaxed and ready to help the children with their homework. The presumption that employees can travel in order to learn works for a subset of society, but not for all. The convenience of LVC is likely to be appreciated by many and opens up flexibility.
Is this good or bad for organisations?
For our clients that are actively seeking out LVC training, the business drivers behind the request include:
- Reducing operational costs from travel and subsistence
- Reducing CO2 emissions as part of corporate social responsibility policy
We can illustrate the likely benefit in both of these objectives based on data we’ve collected while delivering both LVC and traditional classes to our first LVC client, combined with some estimates on data that we don’t collect. For the traditional classes we deliver to this client, the trainer and most of the students travel to a central office at one of the main hubs in Europe. For these classes, we know for sure how many classes we ran, the attendance, and our own trainer’s expenses. We can estimate that half of the students flew in, that the distance flown was half the defined limit for EU short haul, and that the students that flew incurred similar expenses to the trainer. Based on these figures we estimate that doing so has resulted in:
- £390,000 saved in travel and subsistence
- 5 Million fewer passenger-kilometres of air travel
Live virtual classrooms are here. Trainers are offering them, people are buying them, and students are learning through them. Whenever something new comes along, there is a healthy dose of scepticism – questions are rightly asked about the qualities of the new thing. Are we losing something valuable by not getting people together? People may even feel threatened by change if don’t want to be part of it. In the case of live virtual training, our view is that it is adding to, not replacing, traditional classroom training. We will continue providing classes in person when it is the best thing to do. We are also pleased to be able to offer a high-quality, high-impact, interactive form of learning to people that may not otherwise have access to it.