The story of the Virtual Classroom, part three: take this learning format to the next level by building it into a digital-first learning program
Over the last few weeks and as part of our blog series on Virtual Classrooms, we’ve taken a look at the story of the Virtual Classroom. Our previous two blogs reviewed its rise to prominence in response to the pandemic, with the immediate need to shift face-to-face learning to a virtual environment and the latest advances in some of the tech and tools you can use to maximize the Virtual Classroom experience. In this final part of the series, we’re widening the lens to share how you can take your virtual training further, by taking a digital-first approach to your wider learning program design.
How things have moved on since the initial face-to-face conversion problem
In part one, we highlighted the need for the Virtual Classroom format to form part of a wider digital learning blend, and more recent research from Brandon Hall Group bears this out, as since the early months of the pandemic, when Virtual Classroom (VILT in the image below) and Webinar use skyrocketed, now use of tools such as social/collaboration, elearning and video learning have significantly increased too.
Accelerated by the pandemic, the demand for digital learning continues to grow, but the dynamics have changed as we now approach the one-year mark since the start of the pandemic. While early on most organizations simply cleared their face-to-face training plans and focused on converting their critical courses and programs into a digital format, now L&D teams are taking a renewed look at their learning blend and what it really means to be digital-first.
What does 'digital-first' mean?
Taking a digital-first approach doesn’t just mean adopting digital technologies or a mass conversion of your existing face-to-face training to a Virtual Classroom format. But, before we get into that, it’s worth taking a step back and a look at an older concept: blended learning.
Blended learning is the seamless integration of online and offline learning methods. These methods can be formal and informal in the way they are created or accessed, and there’s no silver bullet or prefabricated set of blended templates that 'just work'. It’s unique to each situation.
Learning has changed, though. Learner experiences that promote deep, active learning are key, and delivery methods (whatever they may be!) that have the right interventions, for a specific purpose and for a specific audience, are the way to richer learner journeys.
We see a blend as layers of learning experiences that are simply fit for purpose – be it a face-to-face classroom session, mobile microlearning, VR, one-to-one coaching or newsletter video tips. The method of delivery should be dictated by the learner profile, business objectives and the content, rather than retrofitting into face-to-face and online buckets.
A holistic view
Digital-first, then, is about taking a holistic view of the learning journeys you want to create, informed by a learner-centric view of what employees need, when they need it, and how best to serve them in order to meet your objectives.
In a digital-first approach, therefore, there’s more focus on the learner and using technologies to foster and enable self-determined and personalized learning. It’s an approach that recognizes learning as a continuous process and acknowledges the importance of allowing learners to take personal ownership of their development. Considered as a tool within this much wider digital learning approach, the Virtual Classroom represents a chance for highly interactive learning which supports an ongoing basis of autonomous learning and provides an important opportunity for collaboration and reflection in a group setting.
Digital-first learning organizations foster learner curiosity and a shift to an agile learner-centred approach where the role of 'learner' and 'teacher' become increasingly indefinable and learning is increasingly social – happening across peer groups within the organization. This change in approach to supporting and enabling learning provides the basis for successful digital transformation and the move to becoming 'digital-first'.
Where do I start? Can you show me an example?
As with any learning program design, start with the core challenge or objective in mind and build out from there. Although it can be tempting to dive into a box of new digital 'tricks' and technologies, focus on the specific challenges you are faced with and how you can address these. This might mean working with the technologies you already have access to (check out part two in this blog series for more on making the most of VC tools and tech) or building out a roadmap that moves you towards a digitally led strategy over time.
Each situation requires a bespoke design approach. To illustrate, here’s an example of a digital-first program. Due to the pandemic, the client had to quickly pivot from a face-to-face design strategy to adopt a digital-led program. The design brings together Virtual Classroom and digital resources in one blended learning journey using a range of learning design patterns and digital channels.
Learners are free
to explore this journey whether they’re new to the topic or want a quick
reminder; a series of awareness videos welcome them and joining the learning
community gets them activated and inspired by what their colleagues are doing.
The core learning stage isn’t just about theory. It brings together opportunities to practice in a safe environment, and to reflect on how these skills and knowledge can be used at work. And it’s divided into modules, each with two levels of resources to meet the needs of different learning persona, those new to it and those who have prior experience:
- An awareness level for those who are new or want to understand it on a higher level. These are only available online as short microlearns.
- A deeper dive level for those looking for more detail and to learn further. This is driven by microlearning and, for some modules, includes a combination of online and VC training.
This approach brings together practical application and critical thinking through discussions, interactive elements and group work.
The Virtual Classroom provides a safe space for discussion and application supported by coaches to mentor participants, so they feel confident to challenge assumptions and engage in the learning. The microlearning delivers useful theory and provides the added benefit of supporting learners throughout the journey and as a useful reference in the future. And the microlearning uses a mix of online interactive components, audio and video explainers, case studies and allows immediate access to PDF resources – tools and templates to use in their work.
Learners are supported offline by coaches to help them apply what they’ve learnt. This could simply be a chance for
participants to check in with mentors/coaches, or to discuss their active learning by applying knowledge to a current
Completion of the core learning track triggers a certificate to award their achievement. The learning then continues via a sustain phase, applying their knowledge and skills in their work with ongoing support and collaboration, sharing experiences and building a thriving community of practice.
Before you can start to design the content for your program, it’s important to gather, gauge and understand the expectations of stakeholders and identify what learners need and what channels or learning experiences might work best for them. Using that insight, you can then identify the optimal combination of delivery methods for your learner journeys.
In our experience, if Virtual Classrooms are part of a wider program of learning activity, supported by modern learning constructs, you’ll get higher engagement.
Here at Kineo, we have worked with many clients to adopt a digital-first approach to learning, through the use of digital content, social learning, guided learning journeys, digital communities and more. We’ve designed Virtual Classroom solutions for organizations 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.
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: Kineo Edition, a talent experience platform that includes both formal and informal learning to support the delivery of blended learning design.
The story of the Virtual Classroom - part one
In this three-part blog series, we’re focusing on the Virtual Classroom to explore the impact of the pandemic, what Virtual Classrooms can offer for the future of learning and how new developments in the technology landscape can help to amplify this long-standing learning format.READ MORE
The story of the Virtual Classroom - part two
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 this three-part blog series, 'The story of the Virtual Classroom'.READ MORE