The Reality Of Virtual Instructor-Led Training (VILT)

Though self-directed and self-paced learning have their role to play in skills acquisition and professional development, many organizations still face the challenge of imparting the same set of knowledge and skills to large groups of their members at a time. This might be due to industry-wide changes requiring their entire workforce to keep up, or the imposition of new conditions for regulatory compliance.


Traditional methods of class or lecture room-based instruction would seem the logical approach to this, but with many enterprises having a multi-national reach through branch offices, outsourced talent, remote and mobile workers etc., it becomes practically impossible to sit all of these people down in a single physical space at one time.


Some means of extending the training venue is required to include the entire organization – and that’s where VILT can come in.


What Is VILT?


Virtual Instructor-Led Training (or VILT) occurs in situations where learners and their instructor are in different physical locations, and typically requires the creation of a virtual or simulated training environment. For this reason, VILT is often used synonymously with the concept of the “virtual classroom”. But the technologies and motives driving Virtual Instructor-Led Training make it possible to move beyond the normally passive instructor-student relationship of a traditional classroom setting.


VILT is a synchronous learning process, in which trainees learn together as a group, and are able to interact with their instructor and each other in real time. As all the participants in the process aren’t located in the same place, the technique uses specially constructed training venues and technology to create a common virtual space.


Why Is It Worth Considering?

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For organizations with a large and/or widely dispersed membership, VILT can bring a substantial number of people together without the expense of hiring specialist venues, or the logistical hassles involved in catering for such a large training population. And by using technology to create a virtual learning space, it’s possible to move beyond the limitations of traditional instructor-led training to gain other advantages, such as:


  • Training from subject matter experts, in which learners can interact with these specialists directly
  • Group discussion and interaction, and the opportunity to learn from other participants
  • Experiments, workshops, and interactive training exercises which may be conducted during a session
  • Web-based training platforms which can act as a central distribution point for documents, graphics, and multimedia content
  • Location independence, with learners able to attend training sessions from wherever they may be
  • Portability of the training to various desktop and mobile operating systems
  • Reduced costs to the organization in terms of renting venues, providing accommodation for trainees, travel expenses, and business downtime


How’s It Done?


Course participants typically log into a web-based conferencing facility – a platform which hosts the course content and communications tools that enable the instructor to conduct the sessions and disseminate information and resources. There’s usually an audio facility, and features like discussion boards, polls, messaging systems, and interactive white-boards.


The Importance Of Pacing


Having course participants confined to their seats for hours at a time doesn’t promote engagement or learning. So it’s advisable to impose a manageable length on each training session (something in the range 60-90 minutes is common), with breaks every 45-60 minutes in which learners may adjourn to a “breakout room” to unwind, refresh themselves, and trade ideas.


Flow And Interaction


Communications and messaging software or the provision of chat rooms can augment the learning process. Used before the training begins or before each new session, these tools can allow learners to introduce themselves to the group, raise questions on the course content covered or what’s to come, to bounce ideas off each other, and to participate in interactive training exercises.


It’s important to break the flow of activity so that the course includes more than straight information delivery. This might be achieved through occasional challenges, team activities, Q & A sessions, quizzes etc., in direct response to the material just covered.


Effective Use Of Multimedia


Extending the scope of training beyond the lecture hall to virtual spaces allows facilitators and instructors to exploit the tools of the digital medium, and courses should incorporate graphics, video, and audio content to enrich the learning experience. In many cases, this will necessitate the restructuring of existing content which was designed for delivery through traditional channels.


Collaboration And Sharing


The use of web-based conferencing facilities and increasingly of cloud-hosted resources and infrastructure makes it easy for course documents, illustrations, and even streaming content to be disseminated via document-sharing platforms. These centralised hubs also allow for collaboration and the sharing of ideas, e.g. for co-ordinating team exercises, assembling group projects, or simply posting ideas and information gleaned from online research.


Scanning And Moderation


VILT sessions are typically conducted and received across a variety of operating systems and devices, and there’s some potential for technologies to clash – or for course participants to become distracted. So it’s important to have a third party on hand to monitor the smooth progress of a session in terms of its enabling hardware and software. This might be something as simple as time-keeping, ensuring that the instructor’s webcam is correctly positioned, or that their audio feed remains clear.


It’s also advisable to have a moderator present, to scan communications hubs (chat, video, messaging, etc.) for questions and feedback as they arise.


Eliciting Feedback


In a VILT environment, learners must typically rely on the audio feed that’s coming from an instructor rather than interpreting their body language to detect nuances and inflections in the delivery of the information they’re given. For the instructor, there’s little of the immediacy that lecturers in a physical hall might have to gauge how their material is being received. So it’s important for instructors to invite feedback from their learners – and to respond appropriately, to the comments and observations that come in.


Using Social Media


They’re very widely used, so it makes sense to incorporate social media channels into the VILT experience. This may be done by setting up discussion groups or community spaces on popular platforms, and inviting course participants to continue the debates, brainstorming exercises, and other activities raised during training sessions.


Spaces set up on social media are also ideal for disseminating course-related information, questionnaires, suggested reading etc., before and between sessions.


Creating Personalised Environments


Though the emphasis of Virtual Instructor-Led Training is on addressing the needs of a group, there may be instances where learners require a unique personal space for their training. This might occur for example where trainees must learn how to use a particular software application or work-related tool.


In such cases, it’s possible to use cloud-hosted services to create virtual desktops for each learner, equipped with the tools necessary for them to complete their training. Care should nonetheless be taken to provide channels for the learner so that they can communicate with their peers and their instructor, to share ideas and clarify issues.


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