The concept of virtual training is something that people have been hearing about since the last decade or so. However, the last one and a half year has seen a huge shift in the world of work, due to which virtual training has gained an even greater and wider popularity. The impact of the pandemic and its restrictions have seen virtual learning opportunities grow rapidly and technology has provided a number of innovations for businesses to continue to grow and allow their employees to learn in the workplace. Naturally, the definition of what ‘training’ means and how individuals are engaged in training, has changed and over the last five years, breakthrough research in human psychology and technology have spawned a number of newer innovations in this space, including:
- Microlearning or Bite-size Learning: This is a trend that has seen learners consume content in short bursts, on-demand and through bite-sized content. Rather than sitting through hours-long online courses, the mobile revolution has made more learners turn to microlearning as their learning approach of choice.
- Social Learning: The advent of downsizing, outsourcing, and decentralization as a way to drive corporate efficiencies, has seen trainers turn to social learning as a means to train a geographically diverse workforce. One of the key drivers of this newer approach to learning is also the maturity of social media platforms like Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, and Instagram.
- Adaptive Learning: Technological innovations over the past five years or so have also helped eLearning move away from Instructor Lead Training (ILT), and to adapt to a uniquely learner-driven model. Adaptive learning helps modify training content and experiences based on each student’s responses and interactions with the training tools they use.
- Virtual Reality (VR) and Augmented Reality (AR): Thanks to faster processors, smaller-footprint microchips, and technological innovations such as Apple’s AR glasses, eLearning applications that were previously unthinkable, are now almost commonplace. Through the application of VR & AR in training and incorporation of virtual environments & situations into the eLearning curriculum, instructional designers are delivering real life learning experiences to make learning more engaging for students.
The effectiveness of virtual training
As far as the effectiveness of virtual training is concerned, the answer depends on several different factors and experts agree that when designed carefully and consciously, virtual training can provide the same results as conventional face-to-face training. As per a recent survey by Training, a professional development magazine that advocates training and workforce development as a business tool,
- 86 percent of virtual classroom participants rated the experience “just as engaging” or “more engaging than” traditional training.
- 100 percent of participants were highly satisfied with their training experience.
- Participants averaged a score of 90 percent on a test that measures mastery of skills, 1 percentage point higher than cognitive scores in the conventional setup.
- There was no difference between the virtual and traditional classroom participants with regard to behavior change. For both groups, it was immediate.
As the results indicate, the latest virtual training technologies allow for a high-quality training experience that delivers results. And with comparable results, virtual training can offer more in terms of scheduling flexibility and ease of training.
Virtual training - Yay or Nay
The greatest perk of virtual training is that it overcomes geographical obstacles. Given our globalized economy, virtual training is becoming a go-to learning delivery method for businesses that want to stay ahead of the competition. Other benefits associated with virtual training programs include:
- Collaboration and data sharing made available in the cloud for even greater connectivity.
- On-demand training opportunities based on real-time skill development, supporting just-in-time learning.
- The sharing of information and learning experiences through social media channels, supporting peer-to-peer learning and immediate feedback.
- The ability to complete training on an individual basis, which allows workers to fit training when it works for them.
On the other hand, while there are many advantages to virtual training, some may argue there are as many cons as,
- Not all businesses are technologically equipped to handle online employee training, cloud computing, or distance learning technology due to lack of knowledge or budget.
- Certain types of training are best suited for real-world environments, such as those whose success is dependent upon immediate feedback, a high level of direction, or hands-on skill development.
- Managing the training success of employees who have different learning styles, e.g., the baby boomers versus the millennials.
- Employees who want to bypass instructor-led training in order to have easier access to skills development through a virtual environment that doesn’t require interaction or accountability on the part of the participant.
- Technical glitches in virtual programs can leave employees frustrated and annoyed, thereby reducing the amount of effort they are willing to put into this type of training.
The future of virtual training
Owing to the lockdown, the work sphere has changed drastically, and virtual training has definitely unleashed the potential for a more digitized learning in future. As technology advances, this system is here to stay. However, accepting the virtual method doesn’t mean rejecting the conventional face-to-face learning completely. The convenience and low-cost model of virtual training cannot replace the experiential learning of human values and character development of the physical setting and hence both the models hold importance in their own sense. Going forward, it is possible that we witness a growing popularity and preference for hybrid models wherein the capabilities of a virtual training platform can be combined with a conventional setup, in order to provide a holistic learning experience to people.
In the LinkedIn Workplace learning report, 94% of employees said that if their company invested in their career development, they would stay in that company for longer. Engaging with employees is essential for driving this retention, where virtual learning opportunities mean that access to new methods of training is expansive. Here is what the future of virtual learning has to offer-
- Virtual conference: The most common forms of virtual work, which many people would have experienced in the past year, are video conferences and meetings. Downloads of Microsoft Teams and Zoom have spiked during the pandemic as many workplaces adapt to employees working from home. In the UK, the average monthly Google searches for Microsoft Teams increased by 742% between January and March of 2020 alone. In the future, we can expect to see these virtual conferences expand into new territory. Virtual reality (VR) can allow digital avatars can meet in a digital space. The use of virtual reality training will expand the potential for collaborative work too.
- Understanding your environment: Some working environments can be complex and specialist staff usually have to study through manuals, use simulated equipment, or be given extensive training on real equipment. Fortunately, virtual learning tools can help make the experience more immersive and efficient. From turning valves, pressing buttons, and locating tools, VR can help with real training scenarios.
- Blending with reality: The future of virtual learning does not belong to VR headsets and video conferences alone. Augmented reality is also a useful virtual learning tool, which combines elements of the digital world with that of the real world and can be used when working from home or in workplace settings. This may be most useful for engineers, architects, and designers, looking to see their work in scale and in real-time – even before it has been made. This may include adding a 3D model onto your desk. You could then use your phone as a filter to move around the object, inspecting aspects of your work closely, helping to identify issues which can be missed when using computers alone.
Hence, the potential for virtual learning in the future is huge. As processing power improves, our virtual experiences will become more immersive, meaning that the method of instruction can also improve. Virtual learning isn’t merely a back-up plan for the pandemic; Rather it’s set to become a permanent potential improvement for training moving forward.
About the author:
Shiva Sharma is the Head of Human Resources, Pearson Middle East, North Africa & Turkey.