4 feb. 2021

The power of virtual classrooms in a post-pandemic world

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Kate Graham, Fosway Group - It won’t come as a surprise to anyone that virtual classrooms for corporate learning have seen exponential growth in the last year. In a world of Covid-19, lockdowns and remote working, it’s a trend that will continue well into 2021.

Now, new joint research from Fosway Group, Europe’s #1 HR industry analyst, and Barco, digs beyond the initial crisis adoption to understand if these solutions are truly effective for learning – not just a sticking plaster.

As many as 97% of organisations are now using virtual classrooms to support their learning and development, and just over half (53%) report that they have proved to be their most successful learning platforms since the start of the Covid-19 crisis. This follows earlier Fosway research which showed that 95% of learning leaders believe L&D has changed forever because of the pandemic.

So far, so obvious. How else is L&D supposed to reach people? Early in the pandemic, there was very much a sense that any learning done was better than nothing. But as time went on, organisations needed to figure out how to get beyond lowest common denominator approaches and to harness the true potential of this technology.

Online learning has historically been seen by many as the poor relation to in-person, face-to-face training. Think leadership development programmes - how many of them are exclusively run online or virtually? Most include cohorts physically getting together, often in a nice offsite locations and retreats. But with traditional approaches suddenly off limits, L&D teams across Europe have had to think differently. And that’s resulted in a promising evolution in how virtual classrooms are being used in organisations today.

Key headlines from the research
  • A 5x increase in using virtual classrooms for high value programmes like leadership development since the start of Covid-19
  • A 19x explosion in the use of virtual classrooms for coaching and mentoring
  • And a 400% increase in the use of virtual classrooms for external training delivery

Despite the rush to adopt overnight, 95% of learners say they are satisfied with their virtual learning experiences, but it is more than just getting online. Group exercises, live collaboration and levels of interactivity are all key influencers of success with virtual classrooms.

Embracing the full learning cycle

At Fosway, we talk about learning as being based around a full lifecycle – this can be summarised by our PLASMA model: 

Companies need to get beyond thinking of virtual classrooms as purely a mechanism for training delivery. Real learning is about so much more than that! What we design for in a virtual setting should also include collaboration, practice, reflection, feedback – nothing to do with content delivery. See more on the PLASMA model here.

This model is borne out by the research, which shows that it isn’t enough to just lift and shift existing course materials into a virtual environment. Success with virtual classrooms comes from designing the learning experience to harness the full collaborative and interactive capabilities that some of the solutions on the market have to offer.

The top 5 influencers of success are:

  1. Group exercises and effective live collaboration
  2. Active learning and high levels of personal, face-to-face interaction
  3. Differentiating learning experiences from other virtual meetings
  4. Professional production values
  5. Ease of use
Not all virtual classrooms are created equal

Which brings us nicely onto your choice of virtual classroom tool and it is very much a case of caveat emptor – buyer beware. One of the stats from this research that has generated the most discussion is that 70% of the organisations that took part are using Microsoft Teams in at least part of their virtual classroom approach … but only 10% rate it as very effective for training.

This is because it was never really designed for interactive learning experiences. Features and functions matter when you are deciding which virtual classroom technology to use or invest in. Being able to create breakout rooms, control levels of interactivity and participation control all make a huge difference to the type of learning experience you’ll be able to create for your people. Not to mention optimising the underlying aspects of administration, registration, security and interconnectivity with other platforms like your LMS. These all make a big difference to what learners go through as part of the end-to-end virtual classroom experience.

As one of our respondents recognised:

Virtual delivery has put a magnifying glass onto the whole learning experience, especially the design of the sessions, the programmes and the platforms.

Ultimately, there is an important distinction between the 42% of respondents who viewed virtual classrooms as an ‘online environment for delivering training’ versus the 44% who see them as an ‘online environment for learning to take place’. Moving beyond traditional assumptions of content delivery and embracing this now business-critical technology for coaching, mentoring, reflection, feedback and high value, high impact areas of learning is what matters.

That shift is what will enable companies to really maximise the power of virtual classrooms. To be successful, companies need to be more sophisticated in the virtual experiences they offer and increase impact of the learning they deliver. Lowest common denominator will not win the day. That should impact the design of the solutions they create as well as the choices they make about the platforms they use.

As we move towards a ‘new normal’ post-pandemic, virtual learning will continue to be a lead component of the corporate learning strategy. It´s time companies started to understand how to do that really well!

Register here for our webinar on Wednesday, March 3, and discover the power of the virtual classrooms in a post-pandemic world with Fosway Group Founder and CEO - David Wilson and Barco Vice President of Teaching & Learning Solutions - Jan van Houtte.

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About Fosway

Fosway Group is Europe’s #1 HR Industry Analyst focused on Next Gen HR, Talent and Learning. Founded in 1996, we are known for our unique European research, our independence and our integrity. And just like the Roman road we draw our name from, you’ll find that we’re unusually direct. We don’t have a vested interest in your supplier or consulting choices. So, whether you’re looking for independent research, specific advice or a critical friend to cut through the market hype, we can tell you what you need to know to succeed. Talk to us today on +44 (0) 207 917 1870 or via info@fosway.com, or visit us at http://www.fosway.com