By Dave Ackley, Senior Vice President & Managing Director, Digital
How many of your business meetings now take place over video or web conference, as opposed to in-person? As you probably know well from firsthand experience, current technology has gotten to a point where you don’t really need to meet in person to do everything. Video and web meetings– they’re all so much better than they used to be. It’s funny to think back to the dedicated conference room with all kinds of big, fancy equipment that was needed to do a video conference just a few years ago. Now, video meetings are democratized and increasingly ubiquitous.
Unsurprisingly, this shift is heavily reflected in the world of education and training. World-leading educational institutions like Harvard and Yale are offering more and more online learning programs, including MOOCs, or massive online open courses.1 Online-based schools are on the rise throughout the United States; nearly 5 million of the country’s 54 million K-through-12th grade students having taken at least one online class, and more than 300,000 are full-time online students.2 But it’s not just in the academic classroom that we’re seeing these shifts. For corporate learning, technology has become increasingly more important, relevant and effective in recent years.
By technology-based – or ‘virtual’ – corporate learning programs, I don’t mean just the typical “e-learning” courses you may be familiar with. (E-learning isn’t quite dead, though many people think it should be. It’s now complemented by m-learning, which is a whole other topic.) What I’m talking about here – and what clients most frequently are looking for – is pretty much the opposite: rich, interactive, team-based, and often live-facilitated digital programs.
Why Go Virtual?
The beauty of virtual program delivery using digital platforms is that companies can use it to get more people through more experiences, quickly and with less travel expense. From an environmental sustainability aspect, the amount of energy saved by removing flights and travel from the training equation is also notable. Additionally, it means less time away from the job – allowing employees more time to focus on doing their actual jobs and driving growth and the bottom line.
Time, and its scarcity in today’s world, is an important factor in the shift towards virtual learning formats. We’re frequently seeing that in today’s fast paced environment, clients are finding it harder and harder to pull off long, two- or three-day residential programs like they used to. Rather, programs are expected to be half a day or even just 90-minutes. You’re not going to spend money flying employees somewhere for half-day workshop, let alone a 90-minute module.
The Different Types of Virtual Programs
Digital formats are impactful and experiential, but most of all they are flexible. Sometimes companies want their programs in different layouts, adapted for co-located teams or specific audiences. Sometimes they want their learning initiatives to be journeys, with multiple events and touchpoints or learning experiences over a period of time. And companies want programs to be modular and scalable so they can deploy them easily to a variety of audiences in many contexts. For these scenarios and countless more, virtual learning offers ease and flexibility previously unavailable.
We see virtual delivery as specifically designed to provide this flexibility, engage participants in the content and learning, provide scalability, and reduce costs. We’ve successfully used eight virtual delivery formats to create powerful experiences for participants and strong business outcomes:
- Facilitated virtual workshops: Sessions of 15-30 participants using virtual classroom platforms that include simulations, team-based exercises and large group discussion and debrief.
- Interactive virtual events: Larger sessions of 100 to 2000 individuals using streaming video of the facilitator and digital brainstorms, exercises, cases and simulations for the participants.
- Business tournaments: Intensive business simulations that would normally take 2- or 3-days in the physical classroom, spread out over a period of a few days or a couple weeks.
- Practice with an expert: Blended learning with a twist; participants do a learning module and simulation individually and then do a role-play practice session with an expert via 2-way video
- Team-directed experiences: Think “digital meeting in a box”; ad hoc teams can do interactive exercises and simulation without need for a scheduled session or formal facilitator.
- Synchronous/asynchronous: Individuals or teams do an exercise or simulation asynchronously; then they join a scheduled debrief and discussion using a virtual meeting platform.
- Connected hubs: Several local workshops can be connected via web and video conferencing, enabling larger groups to go through an in-person facilitated experience together without travel.
- Assessment centers: Participants experience the reality of their next job or work experience in a 2- to 5-hour live session that involves responding to emails, phone calls and video meetings together with human assessors and role-players.
I’ll dive deeper into the different elements and characteristics of these various formats in the coming weeks. What’s important to know now is that through these formats, programs can be deployed for as few as 15 or as many as thousands of people at one time. They include extensive team interaction, and are deeply connected to everyday experiences and on-the-job applications.
To summarize, there are lots of ways to do digital-based virtual programs. It’s far from “one-size-fits-all.” The technology is flexible and adaptive, and can be tailored to meet the needs of both organization and participants, wherever they are.