I currently live in Charlotte, North Carolina where NASCAR racing is one of the premier sports. In this sport, winning races not only requires that you have a capable driver but you must have a strong crew and a fast car to compete at the highest levels. The best drivers in the world can't consistently compete in cars that are sub-par. The same is true of synchronous virtual training platforms. The platform is to training as the car is to racing.
Interestingly, one of the most forgotten elements when commencing a virtual program is the virtual platform. I've spoken with many learning leaders that have chosen a virtual platform based on the current IT departments' contracts. If the technology office package that they are currently using has a virtual training platform in their product mix, then this seems to provide an easy solution. While this is the path of least resistance, you could be getting a platform that hinders the success of all of your synchronous virtual classroom deliveries.
When choosing a virtual platform, or analyzing your current platform, it's important to focus on the three words that make virtual training successful ... engagement, engagement, engagement. With so many distractions at the fingertips of participants, the only question is how do you continually engage participants with the content? The one thing that cuts across ALL aspects of virtual delivery is the virtual platform. It's not one of the ingredients for success - it's the foundation.
How the virtual platform effects critical engagement factors
• Good Facilitation: For an instructor to be interactive in the synchronous classroom, they need some help. In addition to stable voice telephony that integrates with the platform, instructors need the capability to communicate often with participants openly through voice communication and tools that allow participants to share ideas and ask questions, all in real time. This capability for participants in the hands of participants makes up for the loss of visual cues that allow the instructor to gauge engagement in any moment.
• Content Designed for Virtual: A good virtual design is reliant on the ways the
instructional designer can engage the participants with the content. This is done through activities that may require them to verbally collaborate, brainstorm, practice a skill and receive feedback in real time.
• Stunning Visuals: Since the virtual platform is mainly visual enterprise, instructors need to be able to share slideware without import difficulty (adverse effects on images and fonts), highlight information and write on the slides in real time, and share other class materials, video and audio files with ease.
Have I seen good instructors overcome an inadequate virtual platform? Sure I have. I can tell you, from personal experience, that I don't want my engagement ability diminished and the design hampered because of the limited capabilities within the platform I'm working with.
If you are buying a new virtual platform or assessing your own, here 6 must haves:
Written CHAT Capability: The ability for the instructor, the producer and the participants to chat in the moment. This allows participants to ask questions or share comments at any time fostering more engagement.
Robust Engagement Tools: Instructors need a way to quickly poll participants and check for understanding. Participants need a way to non-verbally let the instructor know if they have a question or how they feel about an issue. Some engagement tools include "slow down" and "speed up" emotions in addition to a raised hand, smiley faces, applause, a green check and a red "X". This gives the instructor the ability to check in with participants in a number of engaging ways. Platforms with only one emoticon such as the raised hand feature are not acceptable.
Annotation Tools: Given that virtual is as much about visual as it is about audio, the ability to highlight, circle, underline and type on the screen is one more engagement capability that keeps participant's eyes glued to the screen. BOTH the instructor and the participants should have access to the tools at the appropriate time. This capability opens up the possibilities to how the participants can engage in a learning activity.
Integrated Breakout Rooms: Practicing and collaborating are key to learning skills and a platform should allow for a number of breakout rooms where participants can go in a small group, speak verbally and capture their thoughts on a "whiteboard". The audio on these rooms should be integrated and flow with the participants to the room. An audio only breakout is better than nothing but they lose the visual collection of ideas.
Integrated Telephony: The beauty of virtual learning is that it can be recorded and the participants can review the content at their leisure. For this to happen, the audio of the participants and the instructor must be integrated with the platform and not just a random conference call line. The breakout feature also requires that the audio is integrated with the virtual platform.
Streaming Video Capacity. Video has become increasing important as the number of virtual workers increase. Seeing another person increases the chance of fruitful collaboration.
Can you check the box on these must haves?