BY SUSAN LEVAND
Online training and virtual learning environments, or VLEs, have been around for a decade or more. Why should you pay attention to them now? Over the past year, their capabilities have increased significantly, with new features and benefits that improve your ability to present, manage and evaluate learning, as well as provide strategic input for your organization.
Increasingly, learning leaders are thinking about cost, reach, impact and effectiveness, and how L&D influences the performance of their organization. VLEs allow the unique capture and tracking of metrics that help quantify learning programs.
When online training and virtual classrooms were first introduced, they were touted as a way to save time and travel. Today, VLEs offer a strategic advantage, allowing you to serve individuals with diverse learning styles, align L&D with job goals and performance, and extend reach to global audiences. Virtual learning has changed the nature of learning and the way many organizations manage it.
One of the key benefits is that VLEs can integrate content and learning assets, including learning management systems, into a single location where everything is organized and easily accessible. Virtual environments are designed for easy navigation — they’re intuitive and highly visual — so it’s easy for learners to find and consume content.
You probably know the adage, “You can’t manage what you don’t measure.” With virtual learning environments, this principle can be applied to learner behavior. Each learner’s actions can be recorded and evaluated, allowing you to assess engagement in each course and across multiple courses, and follow his or her development over time. At a higher level, overall trends in content consumption and effectiveness become apparent. Real-time changes can be made in design and/or placement of content to improve engagement and learning, in response to learners’ behavior.
VLEs support formal and informal learning. You can incorporate a variety of Web-based tools and learning objects, and set up learning communities with content organized into libraries or channels. PepsiCo leverages this social aspect in its Collaboration Expo.
There are learning rooms where subject-matter experts can schedule office hours to collaborate with learners via Web meetings, and networking centers support social learning through forums and open chat. The flexible infrastructure allows you to design custom learning paths within each course to meet the requirements of multiple accreditation bodies, and the VLE tracks and enforces compliance.
Increasingly, organizations need to develop global employees, like consulting firm CapGemini, which uses its VLE to train 130,000 employees worldwide. VLEs scale to accommodate an evolving organization, reduce language barriers, and offer 24/365 access while ensuring consistency, version control and security.
Demand is growing for learning content delivered over mobile devices, which will become essential as the generation of “mobile natives” gains critical mass in the workforce. A VLE is accessible from many different types of mobile devices, so you can embrace the BYOD movement instead of dreading it.
VLEs may seem like future think, but they are here today. Forward-thinking learning leaders are not only paying attention, they are putting VLEs into action now.
—The author is the senior product marketing manager for InterCall. More info: www.intercall.com