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Why is now the right time for Virtual Training?

The evolution of Learning

We know the answer all  too well: Frozen travel budgets, limited spare time and a desire for better balance between your personal and professional life make keeping your skills current a real challenge.  However with the advent of virtual training the challenge no longer seems insurmountable.  The evolution from classroom instruction to self-paced e-learning in the late 90ies never quite delivered on the promise that people just learn by themselves without an instructor or coach to help them along the way. E-learning never became the “one size fits all” learning method we may have hoped for. Rather, it became only one of many learning options that are available for an efficient knowledge transfer. In the past few years learning specialists around the world tried to overcome the separation of e-learning and physical classroom training by the creation of the blended learning concept. Blended learning is basically an integrated learning approach blending different learning methods such as instructor-led and self-paced learning to create a holistic and role-based learning experience.

A new star is born

The latest addition to the blended learning family that has proven quite popular with many training providers is virtual live classroom training. This learning method adds an important new element, the live instructor, to the virtual learning options. In a typical virtual classroom training, the instructor uses web based connectivity to deliver the same or slightly adapted content as a student would receive in a physical classroom. The goal is to create the same learning dynamic of the bricks and mortar experience in a virtual environment.  

Virtual training – what you see is not always what you get

The method has become so popular that today there is a breadth of virtual education providers and training courses to choose from. It has also become an area of discussion for industry analysts such as Andy Klee of Klee Associates http://it.toolbox.com/blogs/saptraining/the-reality-of-virtual-training-34293. Many training organizations have migrated part or all of their physical classroom training to online instruction. During the past two years, SAP has also moved a significant portion of its traditional brick-and mortar training to virtual live classroom training. There is now a comprehensive catalogue of SAP Education virtual training offerings to choose from. The current approach at SAP is to provide the same training content in the same duration to the learner. For instance, a three day ABAP programming classroom course also takes three days if taken virtually. The instructors typically use the interactivity tools available through presentation tools such as Adobe Connect or Webex to engage the audience. The typical virtual learning day is a continuous change from presentation to exercises to questions and answers to maximize learner’s attention. To read more about some of the SAP efforts in Virtual Live Classroom training, you can read my conversation with Andy Klee of Klee Associates here: http://it.toolbox.com/blogs/saptraining/the-reality-of-virtual-training-34293

What makes a good virtual training?

Capturing the learner’s attention seems to be the critical success factor of any efficient virtual learning experience. Besides the everyday challenges of our multi-tasking work lives, the question of how much online training we are able to digest remains open. There are some industry benchmarks with regards to industry best practices on virtual training formats available through CEDMA. However, a recent CEDMA study of about 70 IT training organizations shows that most organizations are still gaining their own experiences with this learning format and adapt their virtual training offerings as they move along. Another point of reference can be found in Clive Shepherd’s article on what makes a good virtual classroom session here:  http://www.fastrak-consulting.co.uk/tactix/Features/etrainer.htm. With the extensive options to choose from the key challenge from a learners perspective is to select the right offering. There are many so-called virtual classroom training courses that actually are only just another type of webinar, i.e. with little or no participant interactivity at all. The differences and commonalities between webinars and virtual classroom training slightly blur the virtual learning method overall. Whereas both formats use the same technology there are some distinct differences between the two. The primary goal of a webinar is to share information to a large audience in a single direction (instructor to learner).  On the other hand, virtual training is usually delivered in smaller learning groups with the purpose of achieving a tangible learning objective and has a more collaborative nature often with hands-on practice. Nevertheless, a learner may not always be sure what they get from a virtual training course and whether this is the best choice for a an efficient knowledge transfer.

Evolving virtual training

As part of my own research to continuously evolve the SAP virtual learning format and really understand the learner’s needs with regards to virtual training, I would like to engage with the SCN members to potentially find some answers to the following questions:

  1. What makes a really good virtual training experience? For example is it the amount of interaction? The energy and teaching capabilities of the instructor? The continuous blending of different learning techniques? The amount of hands-on practice opportunities?
  2. What should be the maximum total duration of a virtual training? For example should a virtual training be run over three consecutive days or spread out over several weeks so that you can pursue your work-related commitments and practice what you learned on the job?
  3. What learning methods best blend with virtual training? Examples can be e-learning, self-study, classroom training, access to a sandbox training system, discussion and collaboration tools, asynchronous instructor and/or peer-to-peer support, blogs and WIKI?
  4. What do you consider critical interactivity components as part of the virtual learning experience? For instance is it the use of quizzes and polls? Or group and individual (system) exercises? Is it the interaction with the instructor and peer students through chat?
  5. What topics would you like to see more of in future as virtual classroom training from SAP? For example would you prefer traditional technology and application courses or prefer training offerings relating to hot and new topics in the market such as BPM, SOA or similar?

Hopefully you have some views on the above discussion that you would like to share to enrich my research project.

All the best,

Arnold

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