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The story of the Virtual Classroom, part two: technologies ramp up their capabilities in the wake of the pandemic

Learning NewsKineo

In the immediate aftermath of the pandemic, we saw a significant increase in the use of Virtual Classrooms or Virtual Instructor-Led Training (VILT), which we’ve been exploring in our three-part blog series, 'The story of the Virtual Classroom'. In our second instalment of the series, we take a look at the Virtual Classroom technology and tools that have bolstered their capabilities in light of the pandemic, and how they can be used to enhance the Virtual Classroom experience.


The Virtual Classroom format calls for a differentiated virtual experience

With the remote workforce set to prevail to at least some extent post-pandemic, Virtual Classrooms are here to stay, but creating a differentiated experience from normal virtual meetings is critical to their effectiveness. Designing experiences that include high levels of interaction are necessary to make virtual learning work, and the technology now available to support this is more readily accessible than ever before.

Not so long ago, the distinction between learning technology and more generalist workplace 'chat and collaborate' technology was pretty clear. If you wanted to deliver a truly interactive virtual training experience, you were best placed to make use of the specialist technology designed for such. Think Adobe Connect or Cisco Webex Training with their polling, breakout rooms and advanced interactive capabilities. Roll on as little as 12 months, and a global pandemic, and we see a major shift in the relative capabilities of predominantly chat-based tools, such as Microsoft Teams and Zoom. In the diagram below, you can see how tools such as Zoom and Microsoft Teams have made a dramatic shift to the right, stepping up as core challengers to the traditional dedicated learning suites:

Chat tools extend their capabilities

Throughout 2020, business tools that enable remote working and virtual meetings all saw a huge uptick in use. In the spring, when Covid-19 was just beginning to take hold, Cisco Webex was able to boast 324 million daily meeting participants, while Zoom had 300 million and Microsoft Teams recorded 200 million (Reuters).

And there’s no sign of this trend slowing down, as Microsoft Teams and Zoom have responded with a steady flow of new feature releases. Speaking recently in an interview with the Financial Times, Satya Nadella, Microsoft’s chief executive, described Teams as a new "organising layer" which pulls together all the tools a worker needs into a single place – collaboration tools, video meetings, chat and other business tools and third-party applications all accessed via a single user interface.

Zoom has had breakout room capability for some time, and in January this year, Microsoft Teams also added this functionality, which allows meeting organisers to split up meeting participants into smaller groups to facilitate group discussions. In Microsoft Teams currently only organisers are able to manage the rooms and hop between breakout rooms, make announcements to all breakout rooms, and/or close the breakout rooms to then bring everybody back into the main meeting. With Zoom, you also have the option to assign ‘co-hosts’ to your meeting, making it easier for external participants or co-facilitators to lead the session.

And from Zoom there’s a new "virtual seating chart" feature, which allows trainers to 'lock' meeting participants into a fixed configuration on screen, which they can also share so everyone has a consistent view of the Zoom room. In a Virtual Classroom or learning session, this new feature makes it much easier to "go around the room" for introductions or interactive activities and makes it much easier for the trainer and learners to find specific attendees on screen. The "multi-spotlight" feature also allows trainers to spotlight up to nine participants to a custom view for the rest of the group to see; great for when you want a select group to present back ideas or feedback together.

Taking the tech a step further

In many cases, your company will already have a preferred platform, and a lot of times it makes sense to use the tool most of your learners are already familiar with in their day-to-day work. Make sure you are leveraging the elements and features native to your platform as you create your Virtual Classroom or learning sessions, and bear in mind that you can often extend the tools available to you by adding in other platforms.

This can be particularly helpful if you’re converting face-to-face learning to a virtual environment. In the past, you may have designed sessions with learners gathering around whiteboards with sticky notes and markers – so how do you recreate these collaboration experiences virtually? Luckily, there are a host of software applications offering an alternative to in-person collaboration, and most of these can be easily incorporated with your existing tech.

For example, Microsoft Teams’ App feature allows for simple integration with a variety of tools, allowing you to assemble a "learning technology stack" that adds other platforms, like digital workspace tools MURAL and Stormboard which both offer whiteboard and brainstorming capabilities in a virtual format.

Here at Kineo, we have worked with many clients to make better use of technology to enhance programmes through the use of digital content, social learning, guided learning journeys, digital communities of practice and more.

If you would like to explore or learn more about this, just let us know. We are always happy to talk through and share examples. We can also demonstrate how the power of collaborative and social learning can be achieved through Totara’s Talent Experience Platform, a learning platform that includes both formal and informal learning to support the delivery of blended learning design.

Our Virtual Classroom services

We’ve designed Virtual Classroom solutions for organisations including BP, ING, KPMG, City & Guilds and Coats. Our design team can provide the skills transfer or design input needed to put together engaging and effective virtual sessions. We can:

  • Design sessions and create facilitator guides.
  • Create fully branded and professionally produced slides and images.
  • Develop learning assets such as videos and animations to embed within the sessions.
  • Design and create useful takeaways in PDF and other formats.
  • Review your existing Virtual Classrooms and make recommendations for enhancing them.
  • Train your teams to design and deliver effective Virtual Classrooms.

In our experience, if Virtual Classrooms are part of a wider programme of learning activity, supported by modern learning constructs, you’ll get higher engagement. Coming up in part three of this series, we’ll explore how to enhance Virtual Classrooms by building them into a digital-first learning blend.

Take a look at part one in Kineo’s Story of the Virtual Classroom series.

Get in touch to speak with Kineo’s team.