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Live online learning — or virtual classroom — has been around for decades. Today in
many parts of the L&D w...
TP3: Cheryle, let’s begin with what a “virtual
classroom” is so that we all start on the same page.
How do you define it?
Let me explain. When it comes to the technology, which is
really just a bridge between you and your learner...
There’s a company in Perth that
conducts wine tasting lessons online.
You might think, “How would that work...
TP3: This feeds into making live online learning part
of a learning culture does it not?
Cheryle: Absolutel...
I’ve also seen organisations use live online learning for what I call “20-Minute Advanced Skills” sessions. For example, a...
Cheryle Walker is a sought-after independent consultant and innovative L&D strategist
with a career history in sales, mark...
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TP3 Virtual Classroom with Cheryle Walker


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TP3 Virtual Classroom with Cheryle Walker

  1. 1. Live online learning — or virtual classroom — has been around for decades. Today in many parts of the L&D world its adoption rates are sky high. Gartner firm Software Advice, for example, recently found virtual classrooms are being used by nearly 50 percent of HR professionals it surveyed. Some organisations and many L&D professionals, however, remain reticent about giving virtual classrooms a prominent place in their learning programs, whether for reasons to do with technology, interaction, structure or content. EMPOWERING L&D TO DELIVER ON THE PROMISE OF THE VIRTUAL CLASSROOM - a précis TP3 recently conducted a webinar entitled “Enabling L&D to Deliver on the Promise of Virtual Classroom” with digital and future-learning strategist Cheryle Walker. Cheryle is leading the way in helping people create highly interactive learning experiences using web conferencing, and is well-known for initiating and operationalising new digital learning channels at National Australia Bank with outstanding results. Among Cheryle’s many qualifications is delivering the UK’s Learning and Performance Institute’s Certification in Online Learning Facilitation. Here we share key learnings from that webinar. TP3 White Paper Image Copyright: Ana Klaric
  2. 2. TP3: Cheryle, let’s begin with what a “virtual classroom” is so that we all start on the same page. How do you define it? Cheryle: A virtual classroom is simply a tool for delivering learning online. It mimics the face-to-face classroom in many ways: a facilitator leads the group and, using a webcam, can be seen by learners who in turn can ask questions using a hand-raising icon, chat via text with the instructor or other participants, and use other tools that are designed to help them participate. What’s different between the virtual and physical classroom is that the virtual classroom is designed to deliver instructional content to people who are not in a single location but who are geographically dispersed. TP3: Is that need to train widely dispersed learners the driving force behind virtual classroom adoption? Cheryle: Yes, but it’s only one of the driving forces. Many organisations need to reach employees all over the country and sometimes globally, and often their L&D professionals spend a lot of time travelling to deliver face-to-face training. In fact, up to 40 percent of an organisation’s total training costs can be burned on travel and accommodation. I’m not saying that we shouldn’t get together in classrooms for learning face-to-face, because we all know that’s a very rich learning experience. However, if we bring the virtual classroom into play L&D departments can reach more people very cost-effectively — so yes, that’s one of the reasons why virtual classroom is hitting the headlines in our profession these days. Another reason is that the nature of work is changing, again as we all know. According to one Australian Government business survey, more than 75 percent of businesses encourage employees to work from home so we’re seeing more and more people coming in remotely to join together in virtual teams. That creates the opportunity for us to run our training more virtually as well. Added to that the NBN, or National Broadband Network, is revolutionising how Australians communicate and learn and work from many different, very remote regions. TP3: So lower costs, and greater geographic reach? Cheryle: Yes, as well as many more benefits that have manifested themselves over time as the technology has improved. Learners and facilitators can now interact much more than before thanks to sophisticated drawing tools, chat panels and even live break-out rooms. which can make the virtual classroom highly engaging. This method of training is also great for meeting the different learning styles of learners, and of course it can be recorded for viewing offline any time. So, as well as eliminating travel costs and providing accessibility to remote learners, there are many benefits of live online learning that are coming into play all the time. TP3: Given the many benefits of the virtual classroom, why aren’t we doing more of them? Cheryle: That’s a great question, and I when ask L&D people about concerns they have about running virtual classrooms I get a fairly predictable range of answers. To begin with, many facilitators have concerns about the technology —there’s often a fear it’s too complicated or it will fail in the middle of a session and they won’t be able to continue. Or they’re uncomfortable with not being able to see participants like they can in a classroom. I think many also fear the change in the nature of their job in delivering training. The truth is that a little bit of skill and practice can overcome all of those concerns. Facilitators need to utilise their existing skills, as well as learn new additional skills to conduct training live online. The traditional skill-sets of L&D professionals are very, very adaptable to the virtual classroom environment. I think the real challenge for many is for them to discover just how adaptable those skills can be. Then, once people learn some new tricks and tips used in the virtual classroom environment, those skills in helping people learn that they already possess can really start to shine through. TP3: You’re fond of saying every L&D professional can beam confidence and competence—and wins friends—in the virtual classroom. Cheryle: It’s true, once they focus on developing their skills as online facilitators. And I don’t mean to sound flippant when I say that begins with being willing to learn. There’s often a fear it’s too complicated or it will fail
  3. 3. Let me explain. When it comes to the technology, which is really just a bridge between you and your learners, there are a lot of different web conferencing technologies and virtual classroom platforms you can learn about. It’s easy to find out all about them, some of them are probably being used by colleagues you know, and remember these tools have all been designed especially for people like you! But it’s not only about being willing to learn about the technology. An L&D professional new to the live online learning environment needs to also learn how to engage people using what I call “online presence” and “online body language”. That is, how to read people in the online environment, how to engage them, how to get them active in doing things on their screens, and how to respond to learners online. Essentially, this means applying the same adult learning principles you use in the classroom but within the online environment. Now, it’s true that facilitating online requires an ability to multi-task, but I use the analogy that learning to be a good virtual classroom facilitator is like learning to drive a car. The first few times behind the wheel in traffic can be quite daunting. “Where are all those controls?”, “I’ve forgotten to check my mirrors,” “What gear am I in?” and “Look out, here comes another car.” It can feel just like that the Keeping participants engaged with visuals is also critical, and in the virtual classroom there are two primary channels: the verbal channel and the visual channel. The visual channel is the screen, and because it’s a small piece of real estate learners will inevitably have visual distractions. They may be able to look out the window, interact with co-workers or family, or multi-task by browsing on their iPad or smartphone. So, it’s very important to make the most of that visual screen element, and there are a lot of proven ways to achieve that. The verbal channel, on the other hand, is primarily the facilitator and their voice. Not unlike in the classroom, we need to focus on both what we say and how we use our voice. As I said earlier, these and other skills we’ve learned as teaching adults are very adaptable to the virtual classroom environment — perhaps more adaptable than you may imagine. TP3: What are some of the other elements that comprise an effective live online environment? Cheryle: My view of a perfect virtual classroom formula starts with one facilitator. I like to teach people to be able first time you’re in an online classroom as a facilitator. But really it’s just like driving a car. Once you spend some time practising, then driving becomes second nature. After a while you’re driving quite capably and not really focusing so much on what you’re doing. It becomes automatic for you. That’s what I mean when I say all it takes is a little bit of skill, which of course facilitators already have, and practice to master virtual classroom facilitation. TP3: Can you explain more about what you say about applying adult learning principles to the online environment? Cheryle: Certainly. Just as in the classroom, in the online environment you have to be able to engage everyone even though you can’t see them. That’s always a challenge and for me my primary focus is to engage everyone in the unseen audience. I begin with making learners feel comfortable with their end of the technology and showing them how easy it is to interact with me. to “fly solo” in the virtual classroom as facilitators. After all, that’s how we operate in face-to-face training most of the time, plus it’s also the most cost- effective model. Next, a virtual classroom with 5-15 participants will ensure a deeply interactive learning environment that in many ways mirrors the face-to-face workshop where you can speak with participants in the room or run break outs where really in- depth learning and more challenging tasks can take place. As for timing, I find 90-120 minutes is good with a 10-minute break at the one-hour point so learners can step away from their desks, stretch, and have a comfort break But it’s true that when you’ve got interactive and engaging activities happening in the virtual classroom, and people are speaking and interacting with each other, 90 or 120 minutes can really fly by. Still, I find 90-120 minutes is a good amount of time to spur substantial learning and interaction, but not so long that learners feel chained to their desk. Learn how to engage people using “online presence” and “online body language”
  4. 4. There’s a company in Perth that conducts wine tasting lessons online. You might think, “How would that work? TP3: We often hear that classroom content isn’t always suitable for teaching online. Cheryle: That’s a bias I hear too, and I think it comes from people not always having had good live online learning experiences themselves, or they’ve had webinar experiences where it was a lecture presentation to a large audience, instead of being truly interactive and engaging. The anecdote that I like to talk about in this context is wine tasting. I know a company in Perth that conducts wine tasting lessons online. Now, you might think, “How would that work? It sounds pretty impractical and not much fun.” On the contrary: the company makes it engaging by making it practical. Firstly, they send out a box of wine to all of the participants signed up for the course, and those boxes of wine don’t have labels on — just “Bottle A” and “Bottle B” and “Bottle C”. Then they convene their clients at a specific time and with everyone online, the company’s facilitator says, “We’re all going to open Bottle A”. From there, participants are taught how to pour the wine, sniff it, swill it, and taste it. Everybody gets the opportunity to say what they’re tasting, relay their experiences and discuss what’s going on in the group. The result is an interactive, entertaining and highly informative virtual online wine tasting course. During that period of time the ideal virtual classroom session would involve 45 or so interactions. That may be asking them to complete an activity on an online whiteboard on the screen, getting them to raise their hand to agree or disagree with something, asking them to answer questions, participate in a chat panel discussion, or giving them a specific activity to go away on the internet and research. I believe about every two to three minutes there should be an interaction with participants. And finally, I recommend a blended learning model. I generally have a survey or assignment before the virtual classroom so there’s some context setting. Material that asks questions of them such as “What are we coming to this virtual classroom for?”, “Where does this sit in the context of my learning?” and “What do I expect to be doing in the virtual classroom?” prepare participants for a truly interactive and live learning experience, while post-discussion — “What are you going to do or change as a result of attending the virtual classroom?” and “What’s going to be your activity, your follow-up, your application of learning?” — are important. Certainly follow-up coaching can be extremely valuable. Now, many people would rather learn about wine face-to-face, and I would too — but for remote and regional participants this is a very effective way to reach people. And I also know this is a somewhat extreme example, but there are many, many more to show that practically any subject is suitable for live online learning. That said, the trap we can fall into is becoming obsessed with designing information for learners instead of learning experiences. I find it interesting that when people start thinking about designing virtual classrooms, they can easily slip back to designing information only and forget about the fact that the virtual classroom can and should be highly experiential learning.
  5. 5. TP3: This feeds into making live online learning part of a learning culture does it not? Cheryle: Absolutely. We don’t want to see the virtual classroom as the poor cousin of training, or a situation arise where going to face-to-face training and travelling interstate is glamorous but doing the virtual classroom is not. In the early days of virtual classroom, organisations saw learning online as an optional extra. They created virtual classrooms around subjects they hoped people would be interested in, and leveraged employees who volunteered to attend. Other organisations offered them to remote and regional participants at first, employees who weren’t given the budget to travel to Sydney or Melbourne or wherever for training. Either way, virtual classrooms were introduced as something new and different, something additional to what employees already had. They were used by early adopters in the L&D community to extend the reach of learning and make more networking opportunities available. Since then there’s been a host of new ways to make on-the- job learning in the virtual classroom cool. Whether it’s a sign on the back of learners’ chairs or computers that say, “Shh, I’m in a virtual classroom at the moment” or custom coaching sessions, it’s something that builds slowly as part of a learning culture. Making virtual classroom-based learning cool is something we addressed at National Australia Bank where we created an environment where learners were able to access a whole lot more training because virtual classrooms were available. That is, we didn’t replace face-to-face learning with virtual classrooms. We added virtual classrooms in order to extend the coaching experience and expand the range of training we could offer even further. By taking that approach we weren’t perceived as taking away from the great training experiences that were already occurring — instead, we were seen to adding great training. That helped drive perception, acceptance and adoption around the organisation. Today at the Bank, virtual classroom has become very operational and core to the organisation’s learning and development strategies. TP3: As well as NAB, what other examples of the successful use of virtual classrooms? Cheryle: One of the best examples of getting started with virtual classrooms in the corporate world is what I call “Interview an Expert.” It’s a little bit like a webinar except you open up the question or chat panel to allow participants to actively participate in the discussion and ask questions, either pre-constructed or spontaneous, of an expert anywhere in the world, inside or outside of the organisation. Depending upon the number of participants in a session, you may open microphones for participants to talk directly with the subject-matter expert. This is a really easy one to run because all you need to get started is a set of questions and an expert online. Then, just get your employees into the virtual classroom and start a compelling discussion that includes all participants. Another example is “Project Spotlight”. Let me explain: Many projects in large organisations, even small ones, are significant because lessons learned from them are important. A virtual classroom can be a great way to disseminate and share those learnings. I’ve seen virtual classroom used to communicate very effectively with everyone involved in project launches, updates, handovers, wrap-ups and everywhere in between, including peripheral stakeholders to get them involved at different points in time. But again I caution you to not to make it a broadcast session with lots of PowerPoints and simply presenting on the project. Instead, make it a consultation and keep your participants involved. Another use of the virtual classroom I’ve seen done well is a “Blog Club” where employees come together around a specific subject. It may be a technical subject or something specific to a role in the organisation. Or it might be an innovation club. Here, getting people together voluntarily and bringing along a whole lot of resources like blogs, eBooks, websites, whatever — and sharing them with each other in a semi-formal, scheduled virtual classroom is a very valuable way to share knowledge across an organisation.
  6. 6. I’ve also seen organisations use live online learning for what I call “20-Minute Advanced Skills” sessions. For example, an organisation is rolling out a new software platform, launching a new offering to the market, or conducting induction training. Here, L&D can bring in experts, early adopters or change agents from the workforce to volunteer and run short, 20-minute skills-sharing sessions. The sessions are promoted on the organisation’s intranet, an e-newsletter or email invitation to get as many employees along as possible. Using the new software scenario, we know the virtual classroom is very good for demonstrating software and similar subjects because of the capability to show the subject matter right there on the screen — and to then hand over control to participants so they can have a go themselves. That feature alone makes it a really easy, and effective, application of the virtual classroom. Whatever you do, be creative. Unlocking the potential of the virtual classroom is limited only by your imagination and desire to learn something new, and practice. The results can also be immense in terms of saving your organisation money, allowing greater flexibility in training delivery, and making your workforce more engaged, effective and productive. Yes, virtual classrooms are great for making and maintaining connections with people globally or throughout the enterprise, but that’s only the tip of the benefit iceberg. I believe we should be — and will be, in the future — running more virtual classrooms in practically every organisation. Beyond simply reaching remote learners or reducing travel and accommodation costs, live online learning provides learners with flexibility, facilitates networking, improves facilitator utilisation, supports informal learning, improves digital literacy, supports 70:20:10, exploits the power of blended learning and much, much more we’re still yet to discover. TP3: Cheryle, this certainly is a discussion that could go for quite a while, so let’s look at what the next steps might be for L&D professionals who are thinking about implementing virtual classroom in their organisations. Cheryle: My advice is to imagine a traffic light. The red light is for you to first stop and think about what might hold you back from implementing your plans. Maybe it’s your stakeholders’ biases or paradigms around virtual classrooms not being engaging or the poor cousin to face-to-face training. Or maybe it’s that red herring we discussed earlier about “My content can’t be taught online.” Whatever it is, pause to think carefully about what might stop you from implementing your virtual classroom plans. Next, the yellow light. Whose approval or support do you need? Do you need to speak to your IT department about getting some more tools, or can you bypass the IT and sign up to something in the cloud? Who else can assist you? And finally, green. This is all about what you can do now to get started. It might be conducting a pilot with some early adopters and finding ways to apply virtual classroom easily, such as within your existing blended learning programs.
  7. 7. Cheryle Walker is a sought-after independent consultant and innovative L&D strategist with a career history in sales, marketing and business development and in a number of diverse industries from oil companies to bakeries and banks. In her most significant career role to date, she initiated and successfully operationalised three new digital learning channels at National Australia Bank that met core business objectives with measurable results. As a participant in the Global Change Agents program at Harvard University, Cheryle is keen to champion social change within the corporate arena, particularly in developing responsive learning cultures in large organisations, and delivers the UK-based Learning & Performance Institute’s Certification in Online Learning Facilitation. | 0418 134 126 | CHERYLE WALKER ABOUT Let us help you plan, build and implement an instructer lead and highly interactive virtual classroom today using our popular client platform, Guided Online Learning. If eLearning is more of a suitable solution, chat to us about how we can create engaging, tightly focused, and award-winning digital learning experiences that balance the needs of organisations and the needs of their people. For more information contact you TP3 Account Manager, contact us toll-free on 1300 658 388, visit us at, or email us at TP3 ABOUT Enjoy this read? Check out our white paper library: w: e: ph: 1300 658 388 Further discussion View the webinar To learn more about Cheryle’s advice about designing effective, interactive online content, working with time-poor professionals and managing slow learners, common traps to avoid in the virtual classroom environment and much more, you can download the webinar in demand “Enabling L&D to Deliver on the Promise of Virtual Classroom” from TP3’s website at