Faceless e-learning sessions get interactive

Many organizations undertake training that is important to strategic initiatives such as product updates and revenue generating programs but estimating the total cost of ownership, and the return on investment, for any development program is no easy task.

Cost effectiveness is fuelling the trend towards e-learning with savings on travel costs and class room expenses and increased productivity part of the deal. Given this scenario, Web conferencing has emerged as an engaging and low-cost training mode that lets organizations build knowledge.

Newer forms of e-learning such as streaming video can give the training experience a boost and are also incapable of providing the dynamics of a live classroom. Streaming video tools tend to involve instructors who narrate while sharing different types of content (presentations and documents).

However, sharing alone is not learning, and in many cases does not encourage interaction.

However, with e-learners and trainers often geographically dispersed and connected remotely through computers, an impersonal and isolated environment can result that tempts trainees to become passive and defocused.

Interaction is the key to successful training, and the more questions trainees get to ask the more they discover and learn. Why should an e-learning environment be any different?

For e-learning programs to be truly successful, students must be able to interact with instructors and participate in the content by working in labs, simulations and role plays. And at the same time, instructors need to be able to gauge how well the student is learning and progressing through their development.

Many organizations are personalizing the faceless and one-dimensional e-learning environment by using Web conferencing to extend their online training programs. This way, managers can focus limited resources on strategic activities and let trainers interact with participants.

Web conferencing means no more static slides, or trainees struggling through online questionnaires.

By introducing a 'virtual classroom' to e-learning programs through Web conferencing, instructors and students can interact in real time for a more rewarding experience mirroring the benefits of live classrooms without the associated costs. Instructors can "walk around the room" during breakouts and assist as needed. Virtual training sessions can be recorded and then broken down into 'knowledge nuggets' for students to revisit and revise anytime, anywhere. This can be a tremendous improvement to the learning experience and can help build a critical knowledge base.

Rapid development of content is a critical requirement for training departments in most organizations where the e-learning environment must be able to respond quickly to newly announced programs or regulations. Web conferencing affords the ability to develop and deploy a training session in a couple of hours.

For senior executives who need to update global employees regularly on compliance issues or revenue-generating initiatives, 'virtual classrooms' represent an outstanding total cost of ownership. This is only the beginning: in online classrooms of the future, trainee activity can be tracked through keystrokes, mouse clicks and breakout interaction, so instructors can determine where trainees need assistance.

Kevin Mackin is MD, WebEx Australia

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