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Could the Virtual Classroom Soon be a Reality?


Trainers have always been eager to adopt new techniques in the search for more effective ways to teach. The ever-growing use of technology in the classroom is strong evidence of that. And now, the power of computing looks set to take centre stage in what some are predicting could be the big story of 2006 – live online training.

Of course, many corporate trainers already supplement traditional classroom-based teaching with basic e-learning such as intranet reference libraries. However, there is now growing evidence, that fully interactive online training is about to break into the mainstream with the introduction of the latest generation of internet applications.

The concept of online training goes much further than digital distance learning aids such as CD-ROM presentations and website tutorials. In fact, the latest generation of e-learning tools claim to be nothing less than living, breathing virtual classrooms.

It is only very recently that the necessary computing power to transfer large amounts of data over the internet has been widely available. Which explains why, in the past few years we have begun to see the release of the first commercially available web training solutions. Offering live interaction incorporating voice, data and video, these online services aim to provide all the vibrancy of a face to face training session through the convenience of a web browser.

But is web training really a practical alternative? Well, the day you welcome your first class online may not be as far away as you think. While web training is unlikely to replace class-based learning any time soon – if ever – recent advances mean it is already possible to teach people around the world simultaneously, without them ever leaving their desk.

The benefits are obvious, especially to any trainer eager to impress senior management. Conducting training via the internet has the potential to save companies thousands of pounds in HR budget and hundreds of man-hours a year.

In some circumstances, your training could even become more effective. With the ease of online learning you can expect web sessions to be better attended and your audience more receptive. You may also find yourself under less pressure to compromise the content of your curriculum because of time and cost considerations.

Can the virtual classroom become a reality? Slowly but surely, signs are emerging that learning cultures are changing. Visma is a financial software design company based in Norway. They use web conferencing giant WebEx and their Training Centre solution for both internal training and to instruct clients and potential clients.

Online training means that Visma is now able to schedule 12 product training sessions a week so customers can attend as and when they wish. Most importantly, in a country the size and topography of Norway, it means in many cases there is no need to travel.

For Visma, the flexibility of online training started to pay off from the very first session. As Harald A. Hanssen, Service Manager for the Visma Unique range explains, “we saved around NK15,000 [£1,300] in travel costs, and our trainer was spared seven hours of travel and an overnight hotel stay. Without WebEx, this might have taken three days of this person’s time.”

As with the introduction of any new business-critical technology, the move to online training is not without its performance considerations. “A system like this needs to be stable because we depend on it to be available all the time,” says Hanssen. Response time is also crucial, but the latest generation of web training solutions have been designed very much with the unique demands of the corporate environment in mind and both Visma and its customers have enjoyed trouble-free service so far.

Indeed, Mr Hanssen rates Visma’s online training experiment as a great success. So much so that they attribute their recent sales upturn in no small way to their new partnership with WebEx.

So, perhaps finally the promise of online training is beginning to be fulfilled. Without doubt, if you or your trainees travel significant distances to attend your sessions, it could be worth you considering trailing a web training service in 2006.

In the future, we are likely to see live online training become an increasingly indispensable tool in the corporate trainer’s repertoire. Early innovations such as desktop sharing anticipate the wider potential for online training to advance the way we teach and learn altogether. What is certain is that the classroom of the future will be a very different and potentially much more efficient place to teach.


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