More than 300 million students worldwide have had their education disrupted by lockdown but technology means we have the ability to continue education throughout a crisis. A virtual classroom as part of an online system allows learners and instructors to communicate and collaborate.
Exploit new technologies
For workers on furlough or working from home, it is important that, even in uncertain times, professional development and learning continues, even if it can’t happen in the classroom. There has been a boom in the e-learning sector with platforms like Zoom, Webex, Google Teams, WhatsApp becoming part of the learning landscape for the students and instructors.
These interactive platforms offer tools that stimulate the participation of learners and their involvement in the learning process, and also allow the creation of bespoke learning content. A virtual classroom can facilitate group work; while video conferencing, slide shows and live video can help create a more engaging learning experience.
Modern collaborative web conferencing tools with online whiteboards, breakout rooms, and screen sharing capabilities enable learners to benefit from interactive live online teaching sessions.
For HR professionals and organisational leaders, leadership strategies that focus on motivating and inspiring are especially important when leading a distanced team. Remote and online learning can provide a robust learning experience where students find online courses which are personalised, responsive, effective and relevant; courses will also offer support and flexibility to maintain engagement and motivation.
Leadership need to be clear about what they hope to achieve with online learning and how they will set about making it happen. It helps to be able to show how the learning relates to short-term plans and broader organisational goals.
As the return to the workplace gathers pace, we will start to see the frontline impact of skills shortages, skills gaps and changing organisational needs. Many employees may find they need to upskill in order to meet those changing needs and to stay relevant and competitive. Businesses will need to invest in development initiatives that drive sustained, long-term value for the organisation and stakeholders.
Adapt at need
Well before the pandemic it was clear that skills such as digital literacy, numeracy, creative problem solving, and emotional intelligence were increasingly in demand throughout the economy. That demand means that developing and enhancing such skills will be crucial to finding employment in the job market of the near future.
As we move out of lockdown, a hybrid model is likely to evolve as, in general, many of us prefer learning where we can meet and interact with one another and to engage with instructors. Teaching online presents a number of challenges but the virtual classroom allows us to explore new ways to meet organisational and personal needs.
The lack of human touch, the absence of opportunities for face to face collaboration and the lack of support for hands-on learning for complex subjects is a big concern for achieving quality training programmes. Inclusivity can also be a problem, so it is important to be sure to use new teaching methodologies in an inclusive way. Please be aware that some employees may have more pressing difficulties – some learners may not have a suitable device or a stable internet connection and that will hamper online learning sessions.
New routes to learning and development
For some, the virtual or online route is preferable – it not only offers convenience and flexibility, it can also give learners who aren’t comfortable interacting in-person an opportunity to contribute. L&D specialists know that not every learner is the same and sitting in a classroom to learn about a topic is not effective for everyone. The virtual classroom can help because it allows learners to comprehend topics on their own terms, using their own devices and anywhere that has internet connectivity. As we move out of lockdown, many workers will continue to work from home and to work flexibly at least part of the week so scheduling flexibility in learning options will be especially welcome.
A high-quality e-learning environment ensures that students can explore the learning process, ask questions, find solutions, create resources, all of which can be done in collaboration with other learners using new technologies.
A 2009, U.S. Department of Education meta-analysis of research into online learning found that: “On average, students in online learning conditions performed better than those receiving face-to-face instruction.” Virtual reality and augmented reality advances mean that for the future the virtual classroom is likely to become increasingly popular.