The Virtual Classroom Journey

Carin de Weme, Senior Global L&D adviser at AkzoNobel, describes in this article how she introduced and improved virtual classrooms at AkzoNobel and why virtual classrooms should be part of the toolset L&D specialists offer.

When I joined AkzoNobel webinars were organised (which are a one-way communication) and my content colleagues were not so familiar with all options that the L&D world had to offer. You can imagine what their answer was when I said ‘virtual classrooms are great to reach our target audience for small learning interventions or follow-up of programs’. It was normal that participants flew in for a two-day training and went away with a certificate for the topic. Did we know if they really were able to apply it on the job? After some convincing of the key stakeholders, I was allowed to try virtual classrooms out and see if it could be helpful. This is what I did:

  1. Decided on the system to use. We were using Web-Ex already for webinars and after some discussions with IT we were able to get a license for Web-Ex Training Center. Helpful since people were already familiar with a lot of the functionalities.
  2. Played around in the system with my stakeholders. I showed what the system was, how we could design sessions and what the benefits were. After this period colleagues were positive to try it out with participants.
  3. Practising and learning by doing. We offered follow-up sessions after trainings were everyone knew it was a test and practised, laughed about the mistakes we made and shared what worked well and what not. You have to find an approach that works for your attendees and that can vary from company to company based on the type of people that work there.
  4. Roles, training and coaching. I defined the needed roles, trained our trainers and moderators/producers to deliver the content in an engaging way and coached them throughout sessions to deliver the best result. In the end I made remote trainings so that trainers and moderators could prepare for their roles and knew what to pay attention for.
  1. Paying attention to the design. I constantly worked on getting the best design as possible and learned what worked and not worked by testing, but also using online sources like Jo Cook or Netspeed learning. I set up design principles to make sure the design of the virtual classrooms was done in a certain way.

It has been a great journey that is definitely not finished since I introduced this in one part of the company and now, I’m working with others to implement this as well in other functions. Not only due to travel and budget restrictions, but also since we need to be smarter in how we design the best learning experiences that deliver in the workplace.

Learnings and challenges

Looking at where we now are with this tool and what we have done in the past years these are my biggest learnings:

  1. Make sure you take the time to make colleagues understand why you want to implement this as well as take time to make them enthusiastic. That is how you spread the message.
  2. Invest time in training and coaching trainers, designers and moderators/producers to make sure they work according to your standard and deliver quality.
  3. Have a good relation with your IT department. Not only to get a system, but also to work on all the hick-ups that occur like people not being able to get a call back or not even use the system in a country like Bolivia.
  4. Have good instructions on how to use the system. For instance, on how to dial-in, but also on where to sit or to use a webcam and headset as a participant.
  5. Set the standard and be a role-model. How you act in a virtual classroom will motivate others to use the same behaviour which in the end will have the best learning outcome.

And what are then my biggest challenges at the moment you might wonder? That is a very good question since I think that we can still improve, but that is not so much about the tool itself, but more about the environment we are in:

  1. Have a learning culture in the company that promotes (virtual) learning and where people have time to learn virtually and not get consumed in day-to-day activities.
  2. Line-managers who understand virtual learning, are enthusiastic about it and who support employees with time and the right tools to learn this way.
  3. Making employees see the value and benefits of learning this way instead of wanting to do everything in a classroom session.

As said, this journey is not finished, but we are definitely making steps and working on improving this type of intervention and learning in general.

Written by Carin de Weme, Senior Global L&D Adviser, AkzoNobel

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