Virtual Technology Alters the Reality of 21st-Century Corporate Learning

There’s little doubt that technology has altered the reality of today’s learners. All you have to do is look around you.

This generation of learners is used to being highly stimulated

There’s little doubt that technology has altered the reality of today’s learners. All you have to do is look around you.

This generation of learners is used to being highly stimulated by technology every waking minute of their lives. In addition to the old standbys of television and  radio, they now have DVDs and streaming video, texting, video games, a host of social networking options, and everything else available on the Internet. Their noses are constantly buried in large and small screens, often at the same time.

To not recognize this fundamental shift in their world and take advantage of it in the corporate classroom is doing them a disservice. Fortunately, the growing trend among organizations to allow employees to Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) to work is ideally suited for the corporate classroom as well. It allows corporate learning programs to go beyond the “sage on the stage” approach in an effort to help 21st-century learners take in information in a manner that is more aligned with the rest of their lives. And that gives them a broader perspective on the world than what they can see within the four walls of their corporate classrooms.

Beyond devices

Yet if all you’re doing is changing the medium, i.e. replacing binders or PowerPoint presentations with laptops or tablets, you haven’t really changed the game much. Because the opportunity in today’s corporate classrooms isn’t about devices — it’s about finding more effective ways for instructors to convey information, students to learn, and both sides to communicate.

This is where virtual technologies, such as webcasting and virtual environments, can make a huge difference. Here’s a good example:

Imagine starting a class by asking three questions to test student  comprehension of the previous day’s lesson. But rather than standing there waiting for one of the better students to answer, and assuming everyone has the acquired the same level of understanding, you launch an electronic poll. Students anonymously click on the answers, and the results are made available almost instantly. That information can then guide whether it’s time to move on, or whether more effort needs to be spent on a particular topic.

You can do that with web casting technology. In addition, if every student has the webcast up on his/her device, the instructor can easily share presentations, video and information from other applications or websites. No more worries about who can see the screen or whether the ancient projector will work, because it’s all right there in front of them. Classes can also be recorded and made available as downloads later, helping students review the information and increase their comprehension.

Utilizing chat

Student-to-student interaction has been shown to help increase comprehension in the classroom. That type of interaction is something that can be enabled (and controlled) through the chat function in either a webcast or virtual environment. Weaker students can be paired with stronger ones to help them learn the material faster and more thoroughly. It has to be monitored, of course, but once students are on-board with it, chat can be a tremendous boost to learning.

Chat can also be used to encourage more student participation during live instructional sessions. Some students may be reluctant to ask questions during class for fear of looking stupid in front of their peers. But with a chat function enabled, students can ask questions electronically (and anonymously), driving higher participation while helping shape the classroom discussion more precisely.

This phenomenon was demonstrated a few years ago by a professor at the University of California, Berkley, who set up a virtual classroom to boost attendance on Fridays. He noticed that attendance for his Monday-Wednesday-Friday class dropped severely on Fridays, so he set up a webcast to allow students to attend the class from anywhere they could get an Internet connection.

Not only did class attendance go back up to equal Mondays and Wednesdays, student participation increased dramatically in the virtual sessions. In a live classroom, he would typically get four questions. But in the virtual classroom, he routinely saw 50 questions being asked. It was a valuable lesson in human behavior for the professor, and a huge benefit to his students.

Keeping students up to speed

The remote learning aspects of virtual technology can have a particularly large impact on employees who need to comprehend particular information but are injured, ill or otherwise unable to attend classes when they are offered. Typically, employees who miss the class have to wait until the next time it is made available — which could be two weeks, a month or even a quarter later. In the meantime, they have to struggle along without that knowledge.

They might be able to watch a recorded session, but if their questions differ from those of the actual attendees, they miss the opportunity to interact with the instructor. If the class is webcast live — and the student is well enough to login — he/she can follow along during the lesson and even participate via chat.

Increasing student engagement

One area in which instructors are always challenged is increasing student engagement. It can be difficult to get students really immersed in unfamiliar topics (such as financial management for marketers or human resources topics for new managers), because they don’t have the right lens through which to view it. We’ve all heard stories about school teachers dressing up as historical figures to try to liven up the classroom and provide context to the lessons. But that’s not for everybody.

This is where a virtual environment can make a huge difference. Using this technology, instructors can create an atmosphere that is appropriate to the subject matter. For example, if the class is studying a technical topic, the “classroom” can look like something out of The Matrix. If they’re learning about operations in another country, the surroundings can take on the look of that country’s culture. If the sales force is learning about the company’s newest line of coffee makers, they can do what Keurig did and hold the class inside a virtual coffee bar. And so on.

We are all used to going to all sorts of places, real and imagined, in our everyday lives, thanks to technology. Virtual environments can deliver that same experience in the corporate classroom to help stimulate and engage learners.

Learning from the learners

One additional advantage of incorporating webcast or virtual environment technology is the ability to capture behaviors. HR training leaders can review classroom lessons and see which aspects got students excited and active and which ones dragged the class down. Armed with that information, they can adjust future lesson plans to make them more effective. If different learning styles were tried, they can also see which worked best, helping shape future classes.

The New Reality

Technology has without question altered the reality of today’s students. They perceive the world very differently than even those of 10 years ago. And that has changed the reality of the 21st-century corporate classroom.

Webcasting and virtual environments can help organizations make those adjustments, improving speed to comprehension while delivering greater ROI. They give context to the materials and help foster both student-instructor and student-student relationships. Most importantly, they help engage students in a way that fits their daily lives — which helps further the corporate training mission.

—Eric Vidal is director of Product Marketing for the Virtual Environment Business Segment at InterCall (, the world’s largest conferencing and collaboration services provider. Reach him via email at

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