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Seb Anthony

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tips for overcoming physical barriers to e-learning


Hi there

We have trialled using a virtual classroom and want to start using it more widely. To ensure its continuing success we need to overcome some of the issues that people have raised during the trial. I can see how we overcome most of them, but the biggie is the two-way distraction when people use it at their desk in an open plan office (We provided all participants with a receptionist-style headset).

We have been able to manage this disruption while the virtual classroom trial was small scale, by using a PC training room on each site and managers' offices (when they aren't in). This solution won't work when we are making more use of the tool.

Open plan offices are a relatively recent phenomenon in some of our offices, but even in the offices where they aren't so new, people have said it's hard to concentrate for an hour's training session in the open plan environment - and they are causing a disruption to others. This may be a protest at open plan offices in general (after all, they must disrupt each other when they're on the phone), but it's still a reaction we've got to manage for the virtual classroom to gain support as a valid training method.

I'd really value suggestions of what we can do to overcome this issue? Any sources of good value sound-isolating headsets with microphone would also be appreciated.

natasha Goggin

5 Responses

  1. are these too obvious?
    Hi Natasha
    #Phone on “Divert” for the duration
    #E-mail alert switched off
    #”Headset on” means “Do Not Disturb”
    #any comments that sound like “Haven’t you got some real work to do?” or “Hello part-timer” may result in a verdict of “Justifiable Homicide”

    Good luck


  2. is it a culture issue?
    Thanks for your comments Rus. Just to clarify the issue, they are disturbed by what other people are doing around them, rather than being personally disturbed by people or phone calls (they use their phone line for the virtual conference)

  3. Keep Them Distracted…..By You!
    To answer your direct question, Plantronics would be a good company to contact regarding quality/noise-cancelling headsets.

    I host virtual classroom sessions quite regularly now and my participants don’t seem to have problems with the noise around them; the issue is usually more with other participants hearing others’ noise. So a good practice is to use the mute feature on either the participant’s phone or, if your virtual classroom software has this feature, the “mute on entry” facility, whereby everyone is muted until they “raise their hands” to speak.

    One more thought…how interactive are your sessions? We use chat discussions and get the participants to present small sections. By keeping them busy, rather than just listening/watching, I believe they soon learn to “block out” the sound around them. By asking people by name to answer a question, also helps to keep them on their toes and focused on the content.

  4. Corner
    I used to test e-learning software as a job (Hello Tim!) and found the noise of others in our open plan office was a problem. When the office was rearranged, the testing team had a corner spot which was much quieter. I understand that rearranging your office may not be feasible, but if there is a quieter area that could be used, this may be helpful?

  5. Signs & music
    Our training rooms are pretty open plan (we have some half-height partitions but they don’t block out sound) and when we’ve also had to do training on the operations floor we try to get around the “distracted by other people” problem by putting up signs in obvious places around the training area and on the PCs to say “training in progress” – like the messages you see on Guide Dogs that say “please don’t pet me I’m working”. It’s not perfect but it helps.

    If agents aren’t acually listening to anything through the headphones, or if they only cover one ear, perhaps you could allow them to use personal music players (at a low volume) which would block out some more background noise. And since music is meant to aid learning you could improve their concentration too.


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