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.