I want to concentrate on two main things here: what the online classroom really is and why it’s important to do the proper background work on your learning intervention.
A rose by any other name
A lot of people use different terminology to describe what I call the live online classroom: computer software that allows text chat, open microphones, use of PowerPoint and other media. I call it ‘live’ because I am present and, given enough coffee, having quality conversations with attendees and reacting to their needs and questions. The use of the word ‘live’ also differentiates from online courses which are spaced out with resources and activities e.g. courses increasingly offered by universities or MOOCs. It’s ‘online’ because it’s over the internet using specific software such as Adobe Connect, Cisco WebEx Training Centre and so on. Lastly, ‘classroom’ because that’s exactly what it is, a place where we all meet to learn.
One of the most common terms I come across in describing this is ‘virtual learning’. I never thought I was part of the label police, but as with anything you get experienced and passionate about, you want to make sure it’s right. The issue I have with the word ‘virtual’ in this instance is that people often assume it to mean ‘not real’ and the live online classroom is anything but not real! What about the ‘learning’ part? Well, can I really ensure learning? I’d love to think so, but it’s up to the attendee, or the learner, to learn. What I’m doing is facilitating learning. I’m just bringing things together in the live online classroom to create the environment where people can do their own learning, about what is important to them.
The live online classroom is also different from a webinar. Webinars are usually shorter (though not always) and usually with many more attendees, up to hundreds or thousands. With the live online classroom you need to have a small number of attendees to ensure you’re taking all of the best things from face to face instructor-led training – such as quality discussions and interactions with each person. Webinars can also survive, when well designed and delivered, with less interaction available in the software, such as no chat panel, opening microphones or annotation tools to make the screen like a flip chart. There are some crossovers and middle-ground here and I’ve certainly been involved with webinar-style learning sessions where this is appropriate to the client, the learners, the subject, the learning programme and so on.
If a job’s worth doing…
Which leads me on to my second point – which is that if you are starting doing this within an organisation you need to do it well. A lot of people I discuss this with are at the beginning of their journey as either a live online facilitator or with implementing this in their organisation. Either way, like anything, you need to start with small steps and build confidence and momentum along the way.
Key things to get right include:
- establishing the organisational need of the learning intervention in the first instance and matching this to real, actionable outcomes people can immediately achieve in their workplace
- ensuring that any use of the live online classroom is the correct intervention for the outcomes and the learners
- designing and delivering the session to the best of the facilitator’s ability and the software available.
Roll sleeves up and get stuck in
Once you’ve decided on the important key actions to include in the learning intervention – and that the online classroom is the right place to do this – designing the session well is important. Like any training it needs to be focused on the learners and the outcomes. This means creating lots of activities, from questions and discussions through to collaborative endeavours to work on in the session. This is entirely possible in the online classroom. It just takes good knowledge of the capabilities (and limitations) of your software and how online activities work well. This takes some exposure to positive and negative examples, following some best practice principles and practice.
Always start with what you feel confident about. When I was first delivering online training there was a lot I didn’t have experience and confidence about and didn’t do, but the sessions were still good. I’ve built up my knowledge, experience and confidence. I’ve also learnt from a lot of mistakes, problems and different situations and projects. This will be the same for you too.
As long as you focus on what your learners are doing at every point in your session, how they are all involved in the content and are using the elements of your software you are confident about really well – your session is sure to be a success.
About Jo Cook
Specialising in developing the virtual classroom and webinar design and delivery skills, Lightbulb Moment Limited was founded by our Director, Jo Cook.
Jo has over 20 years experience in L&D roles in a variety of sectors and organisations. The journey of helping people to improve their training led her to live online learning in 2013.