Businesses are looking for new ways of working. Until there is a vaccination for COVID-19, people will need to limit their travel and avoid being in close proximity to others. With profits hit by the lockdown, organisations will look for ways to cut costs. Since working from home has been successful in many cases, and investment in the technology has already been made, many workers will continue to work from home allowing businesses to reduce office space. When times are tough, another area where employers rein in their spending is on staff training.
Traditionally, the best employee training is in the classroom and on-the-job. On-the-job training works well for practical ‘how to’ training, but the classroom is the natural environment for higher-level training about principles, ideas and attitudes, such as that provided in the popular IOSH Managing Safely training.
How can you create a learning experience without a physical classroom?
Good classroom trainers make sure every student is engaged in the learning process. A tutor can check that each student understands the learning objectives by asking open questions and setting stimulating classwork and homework. Learners can ask the tutor for more detail on topics of interest. Students learn from their peers as well as the tutor. Often, it is the face-to-face interactions with other students where attitudes towards safety change.
Wise employers will want to continue with quality training, but will be looking to technology to reduce costs.
Is elearning the answer?
Elearning is a cost-effective way to deliver some training. Students can learn at their own pace, anywhere, any time, and they can repeat content according to their needs. Time out of the workplace is reduced, along with travel and accommodation costs. Elearning libraries offer a wide range of topics, with learning management systems (LMS) to automate enrolment, reminders and collection of results. Managers know that everyone who has completed an elearning course has received a consistent level of training, and has passed a test to show a minimum level of knowledge.
Elearning achieves some learning objectives well. For example, recognising slip, trip and fall hazards, or revising fire safety precautions. It’s useful as a refresher, or as a precursor to practical training. However, while good for gaining knowledge, elearning is less effective for deep learning. When students need to understand ideas, discuss viewpoints, and challenge ways of working, the engagement of peers and a skilled tutor is essential.
So how do you fill the gap between engaging classroom training and accessible elearning?
The COVID-19 pandemic saw trainers in many disciplines going online. Music tutors, yoga instructors and schoolteachers all had to adapt quickly to teaching remotely. While some schools and universities had their own online learning environments, many other trainers had a steep learning curve, adapting tools designed for video calls with varying levels of success. While a one-to-one music lesson can be adapted, multi-learner experiences such as exercise classes have become broadcasts, with students following a tutor with no monitoring or feedback.
Can virtual classrooms bring the engagement to online learning?
A virtual classroom is more than a video conference or broadcast webinar. To have the value of the real classroom, students need to feel engaged, challenged and supported. As with video conferencing, a webcam and computer audio allow students and tutor to see and hear each other, and documents and videos can be shared. The virtual classroom has extra features, like the virtual whiteboard, which a tutor can use to expand on a learning point or to run a brainstorm. Additionally, the virtual classroom can have as many whiteboards as there are students, and as many breakout rooms for students to work in individual groups as are needed.
Reticent students who don’t like to speak out in a real class enjoy the virtual classroom. They can message the tutor privately at any point to ask questions. When the tutor sets quizzes, only the tutor can see how each delegate has answered, and can tailor feedback to help students without their peers being aware. As with elearning, the virtual classroom has an LMS which collates student quiz and test scores, as well as providing a secure location for students to submit homework.
Success factors for a virtual classroom
The optimum size of a class will depend on the subject, but 8-12 students will maintain the benefits of peer interaction, while giving the tutor time to attend to the needs of each delegate.
A clear timetable, with a start and finish time and programmed breaks, gives the delegates some certainty, although the tutor needs to be flexible in response to the learners.
The biggest success factor is the skill of the tutor. To maintain engagement online, virtual trainers need the training skills to offer a variety of activities, and the technical skills to use the features available in the virtual classroom.
Make UK training delivered by virtual classrooms
Make UK have developed a programme of virtual classroom courses across health and safety, environmental management, HR and employment law and management training. Take a look at our most popular courses:
- IOSH managing safely
- Managing a virtual/remote workforce
- IOSH managing occupational health & wellbeing
- Managing within employment law
- The new team leader
- Mental health awareness