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Virtual instructor-led training: Pros, cons, & tips for success

Virtual instructor-led training is easily scalable and convenient for remote learners. Here's how to orchestrate it effectively.
Virtual instructor led training
Credit: Elena Poritskaya; tonstock and bongkarn / Adobe Stock

Virtual instructor-led training has been described as training for the times we are living in. It represents a convergence of organizational needs, technology, adult learning theory, and pragmatism. 

In many ways, the COVID-19 pandemic created the conditions that led to the rapid growth of virtual instructor-led training. Even before the widespread shutdown mandates, many organizations were implementing flexible, work-from-home policies. But the pandemic accelerated the shift toward a fully virtual work environment, making it necessary to explore training methods that extend beyond the traditional classroom. 

It soon became clear that virtual instructor-led training didn’t just address the very real constraints imposed by COVID-19, but it was a good fit for how adults learn. 

What is virtual instructor-led training?

Training Industry defines virtual instructor-led training as “training that is delivered in a virtual or simulated environment, or when instructor and learner are in separate locations. Virtual instruction environments are designed to simulate the traditional classroom or learning experience.”

VILT offers significant advantages for organizations and their employees, for example: 

  • It’s easily scalable – large numbers of learners can be accommodated in multiple sessions.
  • It reduces or eliminates the travel costs and time required to bring learners and instructors together in one location. 
  • VILT courses are typically designed to be completed within a couple of hours, and the shorter time commitment helps maintain learner interest and engagement.
  • If breakout rooms are used, employees have the chance to interact with and learn from their peers in other locations. 
  • Virtual instructor-led training can easily be recorded and reviewed later for knowledge reinforcement and increased retention.
  • A live instructor can ask and answer questions, engage in open dialogue, assess learner comprehension, and take appropriate steps to increase comprehension. They can also adapt to the specific needs of different learners on the fly.

Of course, virtual instructor-led training is not without its drawbacks. The biggest challenges stem from learners and instructors not being physically colocated. Without the physical presence of an instructor to manage classroom dynamics, it’s easy for learners to get distracted by things going on in their environment, or to give in to the temptation to multitask. Also, while an instructor can access some visual cues if learners have their cameras turned on, the ability to interpret nonverbal language is limited. 

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Best practices for virtual instructor-led training 

Good VILT isn’t simply a matter of aiming a camera at an expert trainer and assuming the magic will happen on its own. It happens by design. The best practices below will help learning and development staff orchestrate effective virtual instructor-led training.

Set the stage for a seamless digital experience

First, choose an appropriate video conferencing platform. Many organizations rely on Zoom or Microsoft Teams. Both platforms enable online meetings, chats, and screen and file sharing, all of which can come into play in virtual instructor-led training. 

Organizations that already have Teams may find it’s worth the extra expense to acquire Zoom for training events because of its ease of use from any device. Teams requires the installation of an app to permit access from a mobile device. Both platforms are constantly being updated with new features, however Teams currently has an advantage in terms of superior whiteboard features. 

The live, virtual environment adds the potential for technical issues, but there are ways to be proactive.

Whatever tools are used, the live, virtual environment adds the potential for technical issues that can not only be distracting, but also impede learning. Working with IT staff to prepare for VILT sessions can help prevent technical difficulties, such as trainers having trouble logging into the VILT software. Other common issues include failing to test audio and video prior to the session, forgetting to record sessions, and not sharing meeting access codes or supplemental documents with attendees beforehand. 

Lay the groundwork

It’s common at the beginning of a traditional classroom training event for the instructor to establish some ground rules, such as when break time will be offered. Virtual instructor-led training has its own etiquette, and it’s best to make these conventions known at the outset of a session. These might include guiding participants to:

  • Keep microphones muted when not speaking
  • Keep cameras on, with learners’ names displayed
  • Ask questions in the chat feature as they arise, or hold them until the end of the session

Some learners may not be familiar with navigating the features available in the video conferencing tool, so it’s helpful to provide a brief explanation up front as well.

Kick up the interactivity

One drawback to virtual learning of any kind is the human tendency to lose attention quickly when there is no one monitoring what we’re doing. Without the presence of others to encourage engagement, it’s essential to grab learners’ interest and hold onto it. 

Consider having a designated moderator during the session. A moderator can engage learners from the moment they log in, even if it’s before the course’s start time. He or she can greet them with a poll, or have them use the chat feature to answer an icebreaker-style question. Interacting with them at least every four minutes throughout the course will keep learners focused on what’s going on in the virtual classroom, not the distractions in their physical environment. 

It’s essential to grab the learners’ interest and hold onto it. 

The more participatory virtual instructor-led training is, the deeper the learner engagement with the content, which leads naturally to better knowledge retention. Introduce Q&A sessions and small group activities such as role plays and case studies at strategic points. Groups of learners can collaborate with one another in private “breakout” rooms, then come back together with the rest of the class to report their results and conclusions.  

Additionally, instructional designers can identify resources to supplement the VILT experience. For example, e-learning modules can be offered in conjunction with virtual instructor-led training to provide a blended learning experience that accommodates different learning styles. 

The future of virtual instructor-led training

Just as remote work is here to stay, virtual instructor-led training has become a permanent feature of today’s L&D landscape. Training Industry described VILT as “one of the fastest growing methods of internet-based learning delivery.” 

Advancements in software technologies will only open up new ways to combine the advantages of a virtual learning environment with those of instructor-led training — so geographically dispersed learners can benefit from the best of both worlds.

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