In recent weeks corporate training has become virtual. Paul Ayling considers the longer term and wonders whether virtual blended classroom training, which combines virtual classroom sessions with eLearning materials, will become established as the new default for skills training.

We are all imagining and discussing what the ‘new normal’ world of work will look like. It seems as though travel, for example, might never be the same again. For many businesses the flexibility and commercial benefits of remote working have now been tried, tested and proven to be both workable and cost-effective. The ‘new normal’ for many professionals is likely to be either partially – or totally – remote.

For the training side of our business, I think that our clients may demand that our ‘new normal’ be delivering courses that follow a pedagogically advanced, virtual blended classroom model. Fortunately, because we already had access to our second generation eLearning content, we have already been able to convert our writing courses to this new model.

The good news is that this new model offers many benefits to our clients.

Economic benefits

Just this morning I was talking to somebody who, before Christmas, went on one of our traditional blended classroom courses. This combined a day of classroom training with access to our eLearning for consolidation of the learning after the event.

It is worthwhile reflecting for a moment about what was involved in her attending this course, and how much her attendance cost her business.

She is part of a global facilities management company; the training was held in central London which was a convenient hub for the 30 or so delegates who were travelling to attend the training from across Europe. She herself travelled from Ireland which meant that in order to attend the one-day course she spent three days out of the office and stayed in a London hotel for two nights.

Yes, she was glad to do it and it gave her a great opportunity to catch up with and meet colleagues from many different locations. These are very real benefits for those wishing to provide corporate training and I fully anticipate some companies will continue to invest in traditional classroom training in the future simply because of this.

But it is expensive. The additional cost to my client’s business of her attending – in terms of her time away from her office, and the travel and hotel costs – was, to put it mildly, non-trivial.

And so to this morning: my client wants to run the same course for her team in Ireland. For a company where non-essential investment is being cut right back, our ‘new normal’ virtual blended classroom model makes great economic sense.

Training benefits

But what I find particularly exciting about this approach is that, in some ways, I think it can actually be better training for the learners.

Virtual blended classroom training replaces the one-day classroom engagement with a series of virtual classroom sessions held over successive weeks. We use Zoom to host these ‘active learning’ sessions. Crucially, the learners experience a session which closely mimics the engaging, interactive experience they would expect from a classroom course including break-out sessions, class discussion and interactive exercises. Should an individual miss a lesson for some reason, they can catch up by watching a recording.

From a training perspective, the fact that this is held over a series of weeks is an improvement on the one-day experience: there is a pedagogical principle of ‘spacing’ which argues that training for a soft skill such as writing is better accomplished over a series of separate lessons, rather than trying to cram all the learning into a single day.

But the pedagogical benefits don’t stop there. It has also been shown that if we start to think about a subject before we attend a classroom session, our retention rates from the learning significantly increase. The principle is called ‘priming’, and we have used our eLearning materials to create short ‘Thinking Ahead’ modules to ensure that people are thinking about a lesson even before they turn up.

Finally, after each active learning lesson, we make the equivalent eLearning materials for that lesson available on our portal. We ask delegates to go through these, which is a way of revising the content of the lesson. It’s yet another pedagogical principle called ‘learning consolidation’ and is, again, an excellent feature that the blended virtual classroom delivery model makes possible.

Conclusion

Writing Machine is fortunate because we had already spent a considerable amount of time and effort developing our eLearning offering. For us to move to this model with our writing course has, therefore, been very straightforward. Other training companies teaching other skills might struggle for a while as they develop the all-important eLearning elements of their courses. But this work will, I think, become necessary in a world which will increasingly scrutinise the hidden costs of training – but which has also discovered that remote working can work well. I suspect we are beginning to glimpse what the ‘new normal’ looks like.

Paul Ayling is founder and CEO of Writing Machine. He can be contacted on paul@writingmachine.com. You can find out more about our virtual blended classroom model here.

GET IN CONTACT