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Using virtual classrooms

I have been using and trying virtual classrooms for three years and have used Webex and Live Meeting mainly. I have also looked at Citrix’s ‘GoToMyMeeting’. I have been using Live Meeting as our choice of virtual classroom in my own live online learning business (www.retendotraining.com) for a year now.

Of all of the systems I have used, Webex was the most reliable but the most costly. Live Meeting is cheap (if you are a Microsoft partner), GoToMyMeeting) is good but lacked VOIP capabilities when we looked at it. I looked at Moodle but it required too much development for us at the time.

As for effectiveness, that really comes down to the trainer and the content. The trainer needs to be very skilled in delivering the course in a virtual classroom because they need to keep the delegates engaged which is much more challenging than in a normal classroom. They do this through asking questions, by using whiteboard scenarios onto which delegates write responses, using polls and running live demonstrations or videos, as well as asking for feedback on whether the course is running too fast or too slowly.

Most of the virtual classrooms enable these capabilities. Webex is strong and reliable and enables you to add on modules to help administrate courses. Live Meeting through Microsoft can sometimes be unreliable when using the VOIP.

The content needs to be delivered in a different way which, in a nutshell, requires it to be broken down into chunks which are delivered in no more than two hours at a time in the virtual classroom. We deliver two modules of two hours each per week through a virtual classroom per course, for instance. But the main point is that you need to make sure that the content is delivered in a very engaging way to make up for the lack of face to face contact.

As for delegate reaction to this form of training, my experiences are mixed. Some like it, some don’t. Those that like it, like the variety (we mix up live sessions with self-paced learning, practical work and modular assessments). Those that don’t like it are usually trying to learn when they are at their workstations which can be noisy and distracting which inhibits effective learning.

Dr Ruth Clark has some very useful information about using virtual classrooms effectively. http://www.clarktraining.com/.

In general, don’t expect that a course designed for delivery in a normal classroom can be delivered through a virtual classroom without being adapted to the online environment.

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