Comparison between Virtual and Face-to-face Training
Many of the same skills are used in both the face-to-face and virtual classroom. There are two main differences when facilitating classes virtually:
- You do not see the participants.
- You use technology to communicate with and engage the learners.
These differences might not seem like much on paper, but they are significant. While training skills are still used in the virtual classroom, the environment in which they are used is a whole new world.
No Visual Contact.
You can’t see the participants! For many trainers, not having contact is the most intimidating feature of delivering in the virtual classroom. They are disturbed by the thought of not seeing the participants. Classroom trainers are usually very good at reading participants’ body language.
- They observe participants’ faces to see if they are “getting it”.
- They watch to see if energy levels in the room are getting low.
- They notice cues that tell them to speed up or slow down.
- They look for signals that participants are paying attention and maintaining interest in the content.
Because virtual trainers do no see participants, they have to rely on other methods of observing participants. Virtual trainers still determine if participants are getting it, and whether or not they are paying attention. They stay aware of the group’s overall energy levels during class.
Due to the inability to see participants in the virtual classroom, a common thought is to use video streaming. If all participants and the trainer have a webcam, and the virtual classroom software program has the capability to display video, then problem solved, right? No, unfortunately not. I do not recommend using video streaming in a synchronous virtual classroom in order to “see” the participants. Let me explain. Yes, technically you could have webcams and use the streaming video feature, but there are two drawbacks to this.
First, multiple video streams significantly increase the amount of Internet band-with needed for the class. The connection speed will slow down, which could negatively affect the other learning activities. If everyone’s connection speed is slow, when you switch from one slide to the next, there will be lag time for the participants’ screens to catch up with yours, which can be extremely distracting to the learning environment. This lag time means you may be talking about a screen that they cannot see. Therefore, weigh the potential impact these video streams will have on your class.
Second, video streaming does not usually add instructional value to the class. Instead, it cam actually do more harm than help. Imagine you have 15 participants in your online class, and you asked each to turn on a webcam. On the side of the screen, you would have 16 small windows, each with a moving participant headshot. At first, this visual aid would be a fun novelty addition to the screen. You could watch them and could watch you and each other. As class continues, however, these windows can become a distraction amidst other learning activities. They will simply do not add value to the learning content.
Your next thought might be, “Well them, just have the trainers use their webcams so participants can see them, and it’s just one video stream.” While it can be a good thing for participants to see their trainer, our original dilemma was the trainer not being able to watch the participants’ body language during class. Showing the trainer via streaming video does not solve the problem.
The bottom line is that not seeing the participants is not as big of a problem as it initially seems to be. There are other ways you can “see” the participants and “watch” for cues you need.
Using technology to Communicate with and Engage Participants
In any training class, the instructor communicates with participants and leads them through a series of activities to achieve the course’s stated learning objectives. The obvious difference between facilitating a face-to-face class and a virtual one is the technology used to communicate and engage. Virtual training uses special software programs specifically designed for online collaboration between multiple participants. The trainer uses these virtual tools to facilitate.
In a virtual class, the trainer can display a Microsoft Office PowerPoint slide show, write on a whiteboard, invite participants to chat via instant messenger, share software applications, and more. The content of the class may be the sale face-to-face as it is in the virtual classroom, but the delivery mechanism differs.
At fisrt you might think that virtual training is limited to technology topics such as how to use a software application. You might also think that virtual training activities cannot match what can be done in a face-to-face class. The reality is that almost anything can be successfully taught in the virtual classroom. This includes learning new software programs, sales techniques, business acumen, interpersonal skills, or time management – anything!
Another surprising reality for some is that in the virtual classroom, you can do almost anything that a face-to-face classroom can do. Using the virtual tools both as they are intended and creative ways, the trainer leads the class through a series of activities to achieve the course’s stated learning objectives. The class can discuss, brainstorm, take notes, work in small groups, play content-related games, watch video demonstrations, and so on.
Clark, Ruth Colvin and Ann Kwinn. The New Virtual Classroom: Evidence-Based Guidelines for Synchronous e-Learning. Pfeiffer, 2007
Corbett, Wendy Gates and Cindy Huggett. Infoline “Designing for the Virtual Classroom.” ASTD Press, 2009