Recently, most companies have had to confront the economical consequences of the recession and adjust their budgets, sometimes cutting costs that are not primary needs such as travelling or, even worse, training. Because of that, virtual classes have emerged as an advantageous option that has also been reinforced by the improvements in technologies, encouraging big vendors such as HP and Oracle to move to virtual classes as a new training method.
The need to cut travel cost and the decrease in the amount of face-to-face courses has also led to classroom content being moved online, the growth of webinar experiences and the use of webcasts and podcast available online for companies and delegates looking for training experiences. In addition, human resources and training managers are increasingly looking for rapid e-learning courses that maintain the same quality as on-site training courses.
In addition companies are also looking for training options that allow them to send fewer delegates. ‘Virtual classes enable courses to run that would not normally have enough delegates in one country to be scheduled, and classes cancel less often,’ says Kelvin Durcan, Director of CourseMonster.co.uk. ‘The larger vendors are moving towards this method of delivery as the technology improves’, he adds. ‘This trend is bound to continue as it keeps their cost down too.’
Other benefits of virtual classes are more intimate classes with fewer attendees and a more personalised experience. Delegates can also get training from wherever they choose; they can stay connected to their job while attending training and it is possible to interact with people from different countries around the world.
According to Nick Lynn, Channel Manager of Oracle University in the UK, virtual classes suit the needs of the market. ‘With travel restrictions and travel bans in place in many companies, live virtual classes allow people to attend courses from home or from the office so reducing the costs associate with travel and accommodation. It also gives them the flexibility to keep an eye on work.’
Oracle offers a list of live virtual class (LVC) courses and they even have some courses that they only run by LVC. ‘These tend to be courses which run infrequently and have low local demand in each country so these are run to try to aggregate demand from across a region or even globally,’ Lynn explains. He states that, for example, they would not necessarily run a course for one delegate in the UK, but if they schedule it as an LVC they can - and they actually do- get delegates booking from elsewhere in Europe, from India or from the United States.
Oracle uses Webex, a real-time desktop sharing tool combined with phone conferencing that allows delegates to attend courses virtually. They also use a webcam at the start of the course so the instructors can introduce themselves to the delegates, and they also work with a producer who is working remotely to ensure the technology works correctly. ‘Our objective is for the LVC to be exactly the same as in a class course as far as the delegate is concerned. Prices are the same so our delegates expect the same rich course experience,’ Lynn says.
In relation to technology improvements, Kelvin Durcan states that ‘the technology is quite slick now, very interactive, with pass rates for courses similar to traditional instructor-led training.’
Learning Tree International, for example, offer hands-on training for management and technology professionals through an e-learning product called AnyWare that connects people to an actual classroom where they participate online in a live, instructor-led experience.
‘Learning Tree recognised both a market need and an opportunity to leverage the power of today’s web-based tools and the broad reach of the internet to extend the proven advantages of instructor-led, classroom-based training to individuals regardless of their location,’ says Christian Trounce, Learning Tree’s Marketing Manager.
According to Trounce, it was a specific consumer need that drove the development of AnyWare. ‘Last year EMC2 asked Learning Tree to facilitate the delivery of live, instructor-led, hands-on training to online participants, allowing them to engage with other participants and an instructor located in a classroom,’ Trounce explains.
Online AnyWare participants collaborate with their peers and perform hand-on exercises like in-class students, ‘allowing them to develop the confidence and capability they need to immediately apply their new knowledge and skills once back at work.’
To date, over 4,000 participants from over 25 countries have participated in more than 150 Learning Tree management and IT courses online via Learning Tree AnyWare. Additionally, according to Trounce, more than 97 per cent of AnyWare online participants successfully complete their courses.
Hewlett Packard is another big vendor that is moving into virtual delivery. They started about eight years ago in the United States and two years ago in the UK. ‘In the UK it was launched as a potential way to save on travel time and especially costs in the time of recession,’ Stephen Noad, Business Development Manager at HP, explains. According to him, virtual classes are recommended for people and companies where time and money are of great concern or where the workforce is widely distributed across time zones.
In the same way, the IT training company, New Horizons Computer Learning Centers, offers a full range of IT and business skills training through flexible and innovative learning methods such as Online Live courses.
This method works exactly like traditional classroom training as it is run by a live instructor and has set start and finishing times and even includes coffee and meal breaks. It is rapidly growing in popularity and has an expanded catalogue of content and service offering in both the IT and healthcare industries.
Virtual classrooms as a training option is proving ideal for people who prefer to learn from their desktop, cannot leave the office for an on-site class, want to reduce travel costs and need to provide uniform instruction and content to a geographically dispersed workforce, but still want live instruction.
‘Delegates spend no time away from the office, no time travelling and no impact on home life compared to going away for instructor-led courses,’ Kevlin Durcan concludes. Even more, ‘they take the course in familiar surrounding which might feel more comfortable.’ Definitely, it is an advantageous experience that is just starting to grow.