Wednesday, September 16, 2009

VILT = ILT...or Does It?

Last week, SkillSoft PLC (a leading elearning provider) published the results of a survey showing that learners feel virtual learning is just as effective as face-to-face instructor-led training. They randomly polled 1800 learners who previously attended a SkillSoft Live Learning course within the prior year. 70% of the respondents rated virtual instructor-led training (VILT) as either the same, better, or much better, than traditional classroom-based instructor-led training (ILT). Granted, this is just a survey, not a study, so it does not prove effectiveness, but the findings do not surprise me. We have had great success and acceptance with VILT as a component of our courses at my company . However, I caution anyone from just swapping ILT programs in favor VILT without doing anything else.

It was difficult to get people bought into a virtual classroom approach when it first became available. But after the tragedy of 9/11, and the anthrax scare that followed shortly afterwards, our workforce was reluctant to get on planes for training classes. They became much more open to the idea of virtual learning.

We capitalized on that acceptance and started conducting basic webinars, but we quickly evolved from there. Webinars created a very passive learning experience which we found to be insufficient for most of our needs. We shifted our thinking away from VILT being viewed as a replacement for ILT by itself. Instead we began to view it as only a single component of what is needed to replicate a successful ILT experience. This was around the time that “blended learning” became an industry buzzword. In any event, we began to develop integrated distance learning programs that incorporated elearning modules, readings, self-paced activities, and testing. The virtual classroom component was used to bring in the interactive discussion element, but it was not being relied on solely to create an equivalent learning experience to ILT.

Today, we run several successful programs this way, including our 3-month long onboarding program for sales new hires. In the 3-month period, they complete nine training modules during which they participate in a total of 17 VILT sessions. Test results and work performance indicators show that our program is equally successful (and in some areas superior) to its ILT predecessor. So again, while I’m not surprised at the Skillsoft survey results, I find it usually takes more than just a VILT session to create a successful learning experience.


  1. Hank Riehl ( from SkillSoft here.

    Mike... you are spot-on. V-ILT is not just ILT over the internet. With Live Learning, we at SkillSoft deviate from the typical ILT method (and V-ILT as implemented by many) in several important ways.

    1. Team Teaching. Just as popular drive-time radio programs have 2 or more on-air personalities, so do we. This is quite purposeful. The variety of multiple presenters adds interest and manitains attention. It is expensive to provide (double salaries) but our learners cite it time and again as a big plus.

    2. College Style Scheduling. We take a standard 5-day Cisco course and teach it in six on-the-air chunks over three running weeks. Shorter sessions keep peoples' attention and provide time for attending to essential daily duties. Time between sessions allows for self-directed reinforcement (like readings or homework between college lectures).

    3. Courses are more than just V-ILT. While V-ILT provides the core instruction, a variety of other materials are included for self-directed reinforcement... labs, practice tests, class notes, student guide, etc. And our 24x7 Mentoring team is available for questions between on-air sessions. Frankly, this is where much of the real learning occurs.

    4. Recorded Lectures available 24x7. Everyone in a class at times "misses" material; whether simply day-dreaming or actually absent from class. Our recorded lectures allow learners 24x7 access to missed material to review whenever needed. A common scenario is a student who takes a class in June but doesn't sit for the exam until October... having ability to view and re-view lectures helps greatly in exam preparation.

    Our experience at SkillSoft aligns with the results of an important study recently released by the U.S. Department of Education. (

    In the Key Findings section of the Abstract on page xiv, concerning adult learners, they conclude, "Students who took all or part of their class online performed better, on average, than those taking the same course through traditional face-to-face instruction."

    Thought-provoking indeed.

  2. Hank,

    Thanks for providing the additional information about the Skillsoft VILT program. It sounds like a very solid approach. The team teaching must create an interesting dynamic. Thanks also for providing the link to DOE study.


  3. We recently went through a series of VILT courses with a company called TACK International. They broke it down into very short sessions even shorter than I normally prefer. However, the facilitator kept my attention, and with each new session he reviewed the material from the previous session, which helped me retain it. To my surprise, I thought it was very effective.
    Since that time I have done some research and discovered that a lot of training companies have been testing ways to overcome the obstacles. One prominent VILT company mentioned they have spent millions perfecting the technique. They claim it can be better, but it has to be delivered differently, and the training industry has to learn how to do it. If it's just another webinar, it won't work. There is not enough space here to outline what I learned, however, Google VILT and I think you will find a lot of new and updated information that will help you develop VILT, or see what the industry is now doing. I'm convinced it will be a replacement for on site training.

  4. Richard,

    I am not surprised you found your Virtual ILT sessions effective. A series of short, interactive sessions that bridge together to provide context and continuity will truly enable people to successfully learn at a distance. I don't envision VILT ever being a 100% replacement for classroom training, but it has increasingly become a larger part of the mix in many companies and will likely continue to do so. If we take as thoughtful an approach to designing VILT sessions as we have done to classroom ILT, we will be able to create many successful learning experiences using this medium.

    Thanks for your comment.