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Jane Sunley

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Video conferencing – a new realm for learning?


Video conferencing provides great opportunities for L&D. Jane Sunley looks at developments.

You don’t need me to tell you that technology has come on leaps and bounds in the last three decades; every day there are more new apps or another way to conduct business using the latest innovation.

This technological boom has revolutionised the way businesses work both internally and externally and as a result we’re constantly looking at ways we use technology to improve, be more efficient and even stand out from the crowd.

One tool which has advanced rapidly in recent years is business video conferencing. No longer a stocky TV set in a meeting room, this technology now offers high quality imaging and sound from personalised suites; making it feel extremely realistic and as if all participants are all in the same room.

I was lucky enough recently to witness the latest telepresence conferencing functionality and was impressed. It made me question the extent to which this will revolutionise learning and development (L&D); is it really viable to replace classroom learning? Unlike e-learning, I believe that maybe it can.

"One of the biggest issues with video conferencing is keeping the audience’s attention, so for maximum learning and information retention the format needs to be both creative and interactive." 

Can it work for learning and development?

Without a doubt video conferencing has altered the way businesses communicate with each other around the world and is now one of the most useful tools in the market; offering a number of benefits including:

  • Removes the need to travel and costs associated with it.
  • Reduces carbon footprint; greener way of working.
  • Less reliance on conference accommodation.
  • Increases productivity.
  • Saves times and money.
  • Allows face-to face-interaction  that provides a halfway house between the simplistic but slightly impersonal telephone.
  • Can communicate with a number of people at the same time from anywhere in the world.

Video conferencing for L&D is already common place in the US with most schools and universities using video conferencing to bring their seminars to life, as well as more and more distance learning being conducted through this technology. There is even an MBA by this method. Why? There are the obvious tangible benefits previously mentioned, but also video conferencing can enhance the learning experience; meaning in many cases people can gain more from it than a standard classroom development session. It can allow the trainer and delegates to:

  • Connect with experts from around the world.
  • Create virtual field trips.
  • Bring people together from different locations to work as one.
  • Access previously unavailable learning.
  • Have a more convenient learning experience with minimal disruption to the business.

Imagine how powerful, impactful and inspiring it is for your people to connect with an expert in the area from which they are learning. Perhaps a Q&A with Sir Richard Branson when delivering a leadership session, or a virtual walk around an Apple store and a conversation with an Apple assistant to learn about excellent customer service.

With innovations in video conferencing set to continue, the future for this technology offers many possibilities, especially in terms of connectivity. For L&D however, the one consistent factor, and upon which success solely lies, is the skill and ability of the trainer to deliver an inspiring session through this method. 

Trainer – the key to success

Only a truly skilled trainer can engage individuals who aren’t physically in a room with them and will be able to deliver an effective learning session through this method. This individual needs to continually observe their virtual classroom, observing all participants through the video link, checking body language and asking the right questions at the right moment, or introducing two-way activities and exercises, to ensure delegates are focused on the learning being delivered and connecting with the trainer (who is, after all, not physically standing in front of them).

With the loss of a physical presence and the possibility of delivering to many people in different locations (the software I saw had the ability to ‘patch in’ up to 64 locations each with a maximum of 20 people – though maybe teaching this many people simultaneously is not the ideal) the format of the session also impacts the success of the learning. And if the learning is successful, per head costs certainly come down.

One of the biggest issues with video conferencing is keeping the audience’s attention, so for maximum learning and information retention the format needs to be both creative and interactive. It also needs to be participant-led, allowing for the learners to set their own agenda and pose their own questions and scenarios.

This two-way communication allows delegates to decide and voice what they want from the session and the trainer to adapt agreed content to suit. The outcomes are also predetermined to make sure the organisation gains from the learning as well as the delegates.

For video conferencing this type of learning can easily be offered in the same way as a face-to-face session. Preparing well and sending out a pre-brief will help people to  reach the right mindset for the session. By doing this, you also offer something tangible which they can keep in front of them during the video link; adding to the experience.

As with any normal development programme, individual learning styles shouldn’t be ignored. Bring the session to life for everyone by using a mixture of voice, video clips, diagrams, exercises and animations. For added interaction, electronic whiteboards or PCs where delegates can share documents could be used. Also consider generational differences; Gen Y are very suited to learning through this method as they have been brought up in a world where everything is done quicker through technology, whereas the baby boomers may struggle to begin with.


Delivered well, video conferencing can offer a time and cost effective way of delivering learning which allows many people to be taught the same session even if they work in various locations around the UK, or internationally. This then means organisations do not have to spend significant sums transporting trainers from location to location to deliver the same learning time and time again.

However, as with all technology, there are negatives. Participants must be committed to learning in this style, you are reliant on the links working for the whole session, some of the interaction is lost because it isn’t physically face to face and controlling a large group of delegates can be very challenging from a remote location.

The future really is technology’s and as the demand for cheaper and greener services grows we will continue to rely on it more. Perhaps now is the time to embrace and innovate in this way?

Following a successful operational career within hospitality management,  Jane spent a number of years as MD of a specialist recruitment company, which she co-founded. In September 2001, she formed learnpurple where she is CEO. This enabled the creation of talent toolbox, an award winning managed software service for talent management, which is now a separate business in its own right. Read Jane’s blog at



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