The Business Case for Virtual Learning

Yesterday I attended a webinar called The Case for Live Virtual Training led by Martyn Lewis of 3GS . I had three very interesting epiphanies during this session. I’m not sure how long it will be maintained, but for what it’s worth you can view a recording  of the session.

#1 Virtual training saves money, but in order to realize an ROI, you have to invest in more than just quality live virtual sessions.
Martyn demonstrates this fairly early on in the session with a graph comparing increased investment in a robust program for optimal-to-maximum return vs. minimal investment for, frankly, minimal return. I have to trust his data on this one, but when you see his description of the full program it seems logical enough. The key here is providing support materials and systems that help learner to apply learning for improved results: The Holy Grail of Learning.

#2 There is much to be learned about creating and facilitating quality virtual learning programs by benchmarking with other professions.
OK, I kind of already knew that you could learn a lot from a DJ to keep people engaged during a session, but Martyn takes it several steps farther in building out a robust virtual program:

  • Live Virtual – We can learn from broadcast media. Not only can we learn from the DJ but also from the NPR hosts. There isn’t just one DJ but two co-hosts who create an open, inviting environment. This immediately caught my attention as Martyn compared collaborative discourse during a live virtual session to “driveway moments”  listeners have during great shows. Not only should it feel like a great radio show, it should sound like a listener call-in show: think Car Talk or Talk of the Nation.
  • Application of Learning – Here Martyn suggests that we have much to learn from performance  coaching. In a case study he references in the session about 30 managers attended a learning event. After 3 weeks only 3 managers had applied the learning. After 3 coaching sessions 27 managers had applied the learning. Coaching can be a very powerful tool to support learners in applying the learning for results.
  • Asynchronous Collaboration – Take a cue from social media. Harness what participants are already doing in their personal lives on facebook and YouTube. They can do this.
  • Asynchronous Learning Resources – Here our tutor is crowdsourcing, explained by The Economist in the article, The Roar of the Crowd.  Crowdsourcing allows an organization to leverage the experience of the target audience to rate existing resources, share experiences, and create new resources for their peers. Some excellent examples of crowdsourcing platforms are Waze , Yelp, Netflix Ratings and Recommendations , and Pinterest .

#3 I really need to add a coaching element to my current project.
I’m working on an interesting challenge right now to refresh current instructors on a completely new design of our face-to-face New Employee Orientation (NEO)… in a virtual TTT. The class is much more interactive than before with more complicated physical setup. I almost flat-out said no when my manager asked if the TTT could be done virtually since we have no travel budget to do them in person. I’m a big believer in training people in the same environment where they are expected to perform when possible. I do like a challenge though. After sleeping on it I figured out a way to do a blended solution using the following elements:

  • Asynchronous Learning: Review the Facilitator Guide andview a video of selected activities from the pilot. The video gives a cue to pause after each activity for a guided reflection about how it might work at smaller remote campuses and in the space where they normally teach. This is recorded on an Instructor Worksheet that they bring to the live session.
  • Live Virtual: Attend a live telepresence session (one session for each site  led by me) where they can try out the activities with the actual materials, discuss the challenges they identified, and resolve how to deal with special circumstances at their sites. They learn from me and each other.
  • Asynchronous Collaboration: Each instructor will be added to the NEO Instructors group (forum + blog) on our company’s internal professional networking site. There I will seed questions about how elements the first session went. I will ask my rock star instructors to respond and get the conversation going.

I was intrigued by Martyn’s view of follow-up coaching and I want to integrate it into the design. The goal would be to provide support and answer questions 1:1 that come up after the group session. I can’t decide if the coaching session should happen just before or just after they teach their first class with the new material. Both? Let them choose?

Luckily I have a great contact in the finance department with a passion for coaching. I think it’s time for us to have lunch.