Providing services in instructional design, virtual training, and human performance improvement.

Tuesday, February 3, 2015

The Rise of Synchronous Online Learning

Although Virtual Instructor-Led Training (VILT), also called online synchronous training, is rather new when compared to face-to-face instructor-led training and asynchronous web-based training, an increasing number of organizations are embracing VILT as an effective (and more cost-efficient) method of training.

At the 2014 AECT International Convention, a college professor shared how she is integrating VILT elements into her undergraduate online courses. In her presentation, she discussed what she learned from students about their experiences in their first VILT courses. Although we often design training for those already in the workforce, there are some lessons we can learn from these students.

Most participants assume virtual means self-paced. 

With an increasing number of universities and workplaces introducing self-paced web-based training modules as a part of their instruction and training, participants are increasingly equating “virtual” with “self-paced,” meaning the participant assumes the course can be completed on his or her own schedule.

With VILT, however, the participant must be aware that class sessions are synchronous. The instructor and participants meet in a common virtual classroom at the same, defined time. This information should be clearly communicated to participants up-front, prior to enrollment if possible.

Participants are greatly affected by instructor’s ability to bring cohesion and structure. 

Although VILT allows for greater flexibility and spontaneity than self-paced web-based training, the virtual environment means that there must be some degree of structure. There is a constant tension between structure and flexibility. Because different screen layouts and small group breakout rooms need to be designed and created in advance, the basic structure of the course must be determined prior to the course. There is a sense of flexibility, though, in that the instructor can respond to participant questions and needs within the already created layouts and content.

Participants have often had extensive experience with face-to-face classrooms, so an instructor in this type of course doesn’t have to provide as much of an introduction to the physical instructional space. Since the virtual environment can be a new experience for participants, however, the instructor must introduce the instructional space and program tools at the beginning of the course, prior to introducing content. Ground rules and expectations must also be established.

Participants consciously develop their online identity.

Just as participants develop an online identify on social media that may be different from their real life identity, participants in a VILT course consciously develop an online identity in their training. With VILT courses bringing together participants from all over the country and, in some cases, the world, participants most likely will not know anyone in the course prior to the first session.

Participants must, then, decide how to present themselves within the virtual environment. What and how much should they share? How much should they participate? Should they take the lead in a group or sit back and let someone else take that role? As instructional designers, we should provide opportunities for participants to establish this identity, perhaps through something as simple as a quick opening ice breaker.

What other tips have you learned from participating in or delivering VILT?

Kelley Rogers is an instructional designer with Victor 12. She has over 10 years' experience designing and delivering instruction for both face-to-face and virtual training environments. She is also a published author and experienced speaker at professional conferences.