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There are some points to discuss about the benefits and limitations of Live Virtual Classroom (LVC) lessons


The Benefits
Many organizations are quick to grasp the economic benefits of the LVC, but they fail to understand the educational benefit. This article will look at the educational benefits and limitations. The next section, A Portfolio of Live Virtual Classroom Strategies, will explore how these benefits can be used in tactical designs. When Learners Would Benefit from Sharing Life Experience Adult education has a long tradition of valuing the life experience of learners. The live virtual classroom enables learners to share their experience in a virtual environment with tools that can take that sharing to a new level. The LVC allows learners to do things such as share their screens to demonstrate tricks and tips for searching a customer database or surf to helpful websites. In a recent live virtual classroom session for customer service representatives (CSRs) on the topic of dealing with hostile customers, learning for life experience was amply demonstrated. In this session CSRs were asked to share how they would handle a number of types of hostile customer situations. The session was great because the textbook answers were far from satisfactory. The CSRs talked about how they had addressed hostile customer situations (and hearing them model the responses made this even better). The CSRs also shared experiences they had as customers of other firms¶ 1-800 service lines. The session was a great success because it expanded the canned and textbook answers and enriched them with learners¶ experience. The session was also a source of best practices that could be viewed by other CSRs.

To Extend the Access to Experts A related benefit of the virtual classroom is the ability to make scarce resources accessible to a wider audience. How often have you attended a class delivered by an expert and told friends about the class? Later, as the program is more widely rolled out, it is delivered by people who are less skilled. When your friends attend the class they can¶t understand why you recommended it. Highly technical programs offer some of the best examples of extending access to experts. Asoftware company was launching a new version of a popular program. Through a series of glitches, the software took longer to develop than intended. In order to make the promised delivery date, the time allotted to designing and delivering training was cut in half and the SMEs who needed to help with training were not available. The live virtual classroom provided just the solution. With the help of the training department, the SMEs delivered a series of training sessions in which experts were able to demonstrate the new software and explain how it was similar to and different from the old program. The experts were also able to answer questions, allay customer concerns, and respond to questions. All of this led to great exchanges (and some last-minute adjustments to the product) between the expert instructor and the learners. The LVC extended the availability of the experts by reducing the time they needed to spend traveling to multiple locations and it enabled optimal class sizes. To Do Modeling and Application Sharing in Breakout Rooms Educators have long known that learning is more likely to occur when the students can transfer learning from the abstract to the practical. In the virtual classroom there are tools that make it possible for students to run simulations or test models. That is rather simple talking about investment concepts such as dollar cost averaging, and Capital Asset Pricing Model students can learn about these concepts by conducting modeling exercises in the LVC. A group adults studying personal finance were learning about the impact of credit card debt. As a means of demonstrating the impact of interest rates, late payment fees, and carrying debt, the group of fifteen learners was divided into five groups of three and placed in virtual breakout rooms. Each breakout room had a spreadsheet with a file that was a model of credit card debt. The exercise required each group to model the impact of different interest rates and debt load over two, five, and fifteen years. Working in small groups, the learners were able to see firsthand how these variables influenced personal finance and to talk about the issue of debt. Seeing the effect of interest payments over time made a point that could not have been made as effectively using a lecture. To Deliver Short,Targeted Sessions Take advantage of access to the live virtual classroom to deliver short lessons with an opportunity for practice between lessons. There is a wealth of well-known research regarding how much information learners can retain (Miller, 1956) and the importance of practice (Clark & Mayer, 2002).Use the live virtual classroom to teach short lessons (twenty to sixty minutes) and then allow learners time to apply the concepts, principles, and procedure before the next lesson. Short lessons are impractical in the traditional classroom setting due to the economics of travel.

A sales training manager for a Fortune 1000 company took this lesson to heart and went one step further. The manager not only made short lessons, but she targeted the lessons to small groups. Every year this company hired 150 to 200 new sales associates. The new hires required extensive training to learn the sales process and later to learn the product. Using the virtual classroom, the sales manager used a blended learning approach. She supported the three-week self-study curriculum with daily thirty-minute LVC sessions. During the three weeks in which the new sales people were studying a paper-based curriculum and shadowing an experienced sales rep. they were also invited to join a daily live virtual classroom program to review the paper-based curriculum from the previous day. When it came time to learn about the products, learners were placed into small groups of new hires who would be selling the same product. The product training was spread out over the first six months on the job, this provided short lessons over time and the opportunity to practice selling skills. To Capture and Repurpose Recorded Sessions If you are reading this and recall a corner of your office in which there is a pile of dusty videotapes of classes that no one has ever watched, I don¶t need to caution you. There is very little to recommend the recording of a typical live virtual session for playback at a later point. On the other hand, if you have the ability to add value by creating a program that has the purpose of being viewed later or if you have the ability to edit the key pieces of the program, then you may have an asset. There is also the gray continuum in the use of the LVC that spans from training to reference to information. If you find the LVC is on that slippery slope, consider this pragmatic approach taken by one sales training manager who was asked to use the LVC as a communication vehicle versus a training vehicle. The training organization had a good track record for delivering new product introduction training; and skills training. This success was noticed by upper management. The VP of sales was so taken with the virtual classroom that he wanted to conduct monthly sales update ³training´ sessions using the LVC. This information-dump dubbed ³training´ was somewhat dubious. It included things such as communicating changes in dates for when reports were due, details on where to find things on the intranet, updates on new reference accounts, and the process for requesting loaner equipment. Given the challenge of delivering a live program to multiple time zones and the risk of damaging training¶s good reputation, the training manager chose to make the sales update programs recorded sessions. The sessions were recorded in such a way as to make it possible for reps to listen to the recorded programs in the background while they did other things. The programs were recorded in news magazine format with lots of short segments that could be randomly accessed, and programs ran only as long as it took to deliver the information (that is, he did not feel compelled to make the program thirty, sixty, or ninety minutes long). The sales reps appreciated the recorded sales communication programs and referred to them as ³sales radio.´ The programs ran in the background and the sales reps could tune the programs in and out. And the sales reps were aware of the difference between information programs (informal learning) and learning programs.

The Limitations
There is no limit the number of things that are not recommended in the live virtual classroom. The point of this section is to highlight some common practices and to explain why they should be avoided or used as little as possible.

Avoid Death by Overhead According to a report by an industry expert (Masie & Rinaldi, 2002), the most popular feature of the live virtual classroom is to ability to show a slide presentation. Death by overhead refers to the experience in which learners are subjected to one-way information dumps delivered using overheads, PowerPoint® slides, and FreelanceŒ slides. These events are frequently referred to as ³training.´ Some people metaphorically talk about them as online lectures. When possible, avoid this one-way deliver strategy; it squanders the opportunity for collaboration and dialog that is the strength of the virtual classroom. Stay Away from Programs That Are Instructor-Centric Technology-based training says a lot about the assumptions of the software developers who created the technology. The live virtual classroom is a wonderful case in point. The technology is based on a traditional view of the role of the teacher. Most LVC programs give instructors the ability to control who talks, what the learners can see, who can write on the white board and when, and to which breakout room a student is assigned. The instructorcentric set of tools makes it too easy for the program to become all about the teacher or, as the phrase, goes the ³sage on stage´ and not about the learners. Creating a learner-centric program requires two things: first, the design of the program must provide opportunities for the learners to interact, and second, the learners must be encouraged and rewarded for being engaged. Creating a student-centric program is easier said than done; learners have a long tradition of being passive. Avoid Teaching Software Skills Just because you can, doesn¶t mean you should. The ability to do application sharing means that you can teach software skills using the virtual classroom. Choosing to teach software skills such as Word, PowerPoint, or custom applications is tempting because it seems like such a natural use of the LVC. It is technically possible, but the virtual classroom adds a level of complexity that must be considered. If learners are not computer savvy and technically self-sufficient enough to manage the new application and the LVC application at the same time, you may overwhelm them. It is also boring to watch other students practice an application. Limit Class Size for Optimal Interaction Don¶t get confused by the recommended maximum number of learners who can attend a live virtual classroom versus the recommended number who should attend a live virtual classroom program. There is no magic number. The answer to how many people should be in a live virtual classroom is . . . it depends. The number of learners per session depends on how complex the content, how technically competent the learners, how skilled the facilitator, and how much interaction you have designed into the program. The answer is to pilot the program to find the right class size. Differentiate an e-Meeting from an e-Learning Event There is a great deal of overlap between the technology for e-meetings and e-learning. In most cases a live virtual classroom will have all the functionality of an e-meeting and then additional functions specific to learning. The industry is evolving so that these two

applications are becoming almost identical. Software designed for learning has unique attributes, such as tools that let learners signal the instructor that he is going too fast or too slow or that the lesson is clear or confusing, and assessment features like quizzes and tests. If you are designing a program using a generic e-meeting application, you will probably be limited to hand raising, polling, and the typical e-meeting features. In either case, be sure the hallmarks of learning are there, including a goal or learning outcome, an opportunity to probe learners for understanding, and an assessment to determine whether your goal was achieved. Anticipate That LVC Classes Will Take Longer to Deliver than Traditional Classroom Courses There are longstanding statistics on the power of computer-based training to reduce the time it takes to train by 35 to 45 percent (Fletcher, 1990; Hall, 1995). These statistics do not apply to live virtual classrooms. The often-quoted statistic assumes that through pretesting, branching, and empowering learners to move at their own pace, the time spent learning can be shortened. In the live virtual classroom, pretesting and branching are of little help because the program requires all learners to go through the entire program at the same pace. The virtual classroom can theoretically take longer to deliver the same content than a traditional classroom. The LVC has the added burden of frequently stopping and checking on learners¶ understanding, which would be seen via nonverbal clues in the traditional classroom, and technical ³speed bumps,´ such as waiting for screens to refresh and delays created by passing the microphone or waiting for the tally of a polling question.