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Live online learning for improved business performance


Colin Steed looks at how to improve business performance and reduce learning and development costs by using live online learning.

In today's economic climate, we all know that it's vital to increase the business performance of our organisations to ensure that we can stay ahead. The only way we can do this is by ensuring our workforce is better trained and equipped with the skills to perform their job more effectively and efficiently.

But training our workforce is expensive isn't it? Courses cost. Buildings housing classrooms cost. Staff on courses cost, with associated travel, accommodation, and the lost opportunity costs of them not being at their desk.
And yet, throughout the world we are witnessing learning and development budgets are being cut — deeply in many organisations.

"Webinars are quite passive for the learner, unless of course the presenter has the necessary skills to engage learners through frequent interaction."

So businesses are facing a huge dilemma. We need to become more productive, more efficient and have better trained employees — which means we need to do more training and staff development — but we have less budget at our disposal.

So how can we get out of this downward spiral? Well, there is a solution. In this article, I will show you how you can achieve your business performance goals whilst reduce your learning and development costs.  So, let me introduce you to live online learning.

What is live online learning?

Live online learning, sometimes called virtual classrooms, or synchronous training, is based on using a web conferencing system that connects your trainers and the learners over an internet connection.

All your learners need is what is on their desk right now – a computer, an internet connection and a web browser. Over this connection, your trainer can facilitate a live learning event – with audio, video, sharing documents, and so on – as though they were in the same room together.

So irrespective of where staff are located, they can connect to the live online training room.

But it's not just about training – there are different ways to use the web conferencing systems – ways that will enable your organisation to be more productive and efficient whilst not taking out of your budget. Let's look at three types of event. 

Web meetings

Web meetings are the online version of the face-to-face meeting. In web meetings, the software is used for small groups to meet online to collaborate, share documents and make decisions, wherever the participants are.

Common uses for web meetings include trainer meetings, sales meetings, management meetings and so on, but the software has uses elsewhere; notably for system/software support, coaching, and mentoring. 


Webinars are events where you want to distribute information or raise awareness to a large audience. A webinar is an online seminar, delivered by a presenter to an audience which may consist of many hundreds of people.

At webinars, the presenter conducts a presentation and invites questions from the audience. These events are primarily presenter-focused, inasmuch as the presenter is the main focus for the event, as opposed to an online classroom event which is learner-centred.

Webinars are very popular with organisations, allowing them to disseminate information to many learners at once. They are, however, quite passive for the learner, unless of course the presenter has the necessary skills to engage learners through frequent interaction. 

Learning events

Learning events are training sessions with a small audience for providing performance-based outcomes. Learners are connected by the internet to the classroom. They are live facilitator–led events which use the web conferencing system to provide the facilities for live online learning sessions. This type of event is explicitly learner-centred as opposed to the "broadcast" or "presentation" approach of webinars.

Why now – what's brought about the change?

But live online learning is not new – it's been around since the 1990s. So why now? What has brought about this change? 

During the few years, powered by the huge and rapid advances in technology and years of research into how people learn online, things have developed and progressed considerably. Notably, the following advances have been made which have brought reliable live online learning to everyone:

  • Nearly everyone has computer access at work and at home, as well as owning many internet-enabled mobile wireless devices capable of receiving learning events.
  • Most people now enjoy a fast internet connection through high-speed broadband both at work and at home, indeed even while they are travelling, by the advances in mobile technology such as smart phones and internet-enabled tablets, such as the iPad.
  • The web conferencing software has evolved into a reliable platform, benefitting from over 10 years of development and enhancement.
  • We have been provided with evidence-based research on how people learn online and the best way to deliver online learning events. 

How could your organisation use web conferencing systems?

Let’s now think about how your organisation could use a web conferencing system to provide learning events for employees. Take a minute to jot down ways in which your organisation could make use of it for meetings, webinars and online classroom events.

Here are a few examples, but note these are just some of the available options:

  • Where face-to-face interaction is not critical. For some training programmes it is vital that the trainer is in the same room as the learners in order for the programme to be successful. Lab courses for hardware specialists, where learners physically build computer systems, training in self defence and wine tasting are some typical examples of where web conferencing would not be a good choice. However, in each of these scenarios, some elements of the training would be possible online; so always keep your mind open to reaping the rewards of online learning by combining it with other delivery methods.
  • Where your audience is dispersed throughout a geographic area. Where learners are not all located in the same place, the online classroom will minimise travel time and save on expenses for travel and accommodation. Therefore, any organisation with locations throughout the country - indeed throughout the world - would achieve some excellent cost savings using web conferencing systems.
  • Where the topic is sufficiently critical that all employees must complete the training. Although self-study instruction may be appropriate for teaching the content of, say, compliance training, the learners may not be motivated to complete the work. Where a topic is mandatory, using an online event as a follow-up to self-study will provide the impetus for learners to complete the requirements.
  • Where you have a new product or service and you need to update your entire workforce. Here is a great example of how using the online environment would be invaluable in getting product/service information out to your workforce more quickly and providing some cost savings. 
  • Where your work group needs to collaborate. If you have a geographically dispersed work group that needs to come to a consensus, say to agree the sign-off for a new product, or agree sales targets, you can utilise web conferencing to allow the group to collaborate and share ideas and documents.
  • Where a company official or content expert is available for a specific time. Let’s say that your managing director needs to address all staff on the company’s results. By using web conferencing, all staff can see and attend the presentation. This is also true for when, say, a leading expert in your field is available for a particular time on a specific day.

Benefits to employers

The benefits to the organisation are many:

  • Reduced travel time and accommodation costs.
  • Staff spend less time away from the job.
  • Faster deployment of knowledge and skills.
  • Opportunity to provide training to larger numbers of staff – at a much lower cost to the business.
  • Events are measurable, trackable, recordable, and easy to link with other learning.
  • Minimal capital outlays - no need to "own" the technology.

From a learning perspective, users cite the following benefits: 

  • Shorter and more focused courses.
  • Courses that are more interactive and collaborative.
  • Greater opportunity to practise either in groups or individually.
  • Ability to share with other learners.
  • Ability to learn without having to leave the place of work.
  • Ability to learn at a convenient time.
  • More likelihood of receiving "just in time" learning.
  • Probability of being trained more often and in a more timely way.

Challenges of live online learning

It would be wise to explain that live online learning is not the be all and end all of the problems you face in your business. There are no easy solutions in anything are there? And live online learning is no exception.
With all the benefits that live online learning brings to your organisation, there are naturally some challenges too.

By far the biggest issue is the trainer's lack of the requisite skills in the live online environment. It is the biggest hurdle that we face today if live online learning is to provide us with the promise and opportunities that are there for the taking. So why is this?

Employers - and many trainers - seem to be under the impression that their training staff can simply take their classroom courses and deliver them in the in the online classroom. This is a misguided and totally incorrect assumption. To be able to deliver quality learning events in the live online learning environment, trainers need a complete new layer of skills and techniques which they must overlay on their classroom design and delivery skills. They will definitely need to acquire these skills and techniques, and practise and hone them well, before their first live online session.

Organisations around the world are recognising the value

Organisations throughout the US and Europe are now delivering learning events using the live online classroom environment. Clearly, those organisations are now incorporating it into their learning strategy.

Of those organisations who responded to the e-Learning Guild survey Getting Started with Synchronous Systems (2010), 85% strongly agreed/agreed that "management believes that these approaches are essential to their organisation". Notably, almost 90% stated that they "believed that their live online learning can be as effective as their face to face classroom sessions".

Before we close, I want to highlight that using live online learning for economic reasons isn't the only reason organisations should be using it. In today’s economic climate, a trend being observed throughout the world is that many L&D departments are losing classroom space to save on property costs. But it is important to remember that cost savings are not the primary reason for adopting live online learning.

Live online learning can provide better and more effective learning experiences for our learners.  Our learners’ needs are changing too. Today’s learners want to learn in shorter timescales, they want learning accessible at the point of need, they want shorter sessions, and they want those sessions focused on the role they perform in the workplace. Which is exactly what training at the point of need is about and is the way successful organisations run their L&D organisations.

All of those goals can be met with live online learning – using the facility for either short on demand courses, company meetings, company-wide seminars, or as part of a blend of learning events. I hope that you can see the tremendous advantage that live online learning can bring to your organisation to achieve both your own and your organisations' goals for the future.

Colin Steed is the chief executive of the Learning and Performance Institute. He has over 35 years' experience in the IT training industry. Having spent ten years in the British Airways’ IT department, he founded the Training Information Network and launched the first magazine in the IT training field - IT Training - where he edited the publication until it was sold in 1998. He was instrumental in founding the Institute of IT Training, the world’s first professional body for IT training professionals and was appointed chief executive in 2000. Colin's latest book, Facilitating live online learning, is now available. Find out more here.


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