Having taught online for many years I wanted to give you some insights on what to expect. Here is my list of Pros and Cons. I have also suggest solutions for each of the Cons to save you time and run better classes.
So here are the Pros and Cons of teaching a Live Virtual Classroom:
- Global Audience
- Highest Student Engagement
- Relationship Building
- Student Convenience
- Cost Savings
- Live Question & Answer
- High Speed Delivery
- Highest Justifiable Revenue
- Integration to Blended Learning
- Technical Problems
- Reading Body Language
- Physical Presence
- Environmental Distractions
- Teacher Training
- Cultural Differences
- Language Differences
- Time Zones
- Class Sizes
So to be clear here we are talking about teaching Live Virtual Classrooms like you do in physical classrooms but online. If you don’t understand the difference between eLearning, Web Conferences and a REAL Live Virtual Classroom this article should explain it all for you.
Article : How can I Teach Online?
Now that you know what some of the Pros and Cons of teaching live online let me discuss with you some of my personal experiences with each of these topics.
One of the greatest things of teaching live online is that you can pull your audience from across the world. Providing classroom quality training on demand around the world has the potential to grow your business and teach more students. If you are teaching intermediate to advanced courses where there is a more limited pool of students than this style training is perfect for you. You will see this style of training being use in Technology Online Coding Boot Camps which are leading he way in online education.
Highest Student Engagement
Live Virtual Classrooms are the highest in student engagement as you have a live instructor with the ability for students to interact and ask questions. You have remote desktop support for when students get stuck. You have the ability to pair up students for social learning and peer engagement. All in an Instructor led session. This blows away the engagement in eLearning and Web Conferences hands down. Many times students have been amazed at the quality of training I have provided this way and have mentioned it not only to me directly but in the follow up student evaluations.
Nothing builds rapport with students quicker then a live round robin introduction and group discussions. It allows the teacher to be seen as a real person and also to become a trusted technical adviser. This means in all future correspondence whether by email or phone you are already starting at a certain level of authority. Being able to spend some one on one time before or after class with students with “At my workplace” type questions in a fully interactive environment only increases this relationship building and adviser status.
The ability for students to join the class from work or home from anywhere around the world is a great advantage. It also means they don’t need to worry about transportation, traffic, parking and the time to get too and from training. They can choose the environment that they personally learn the best in.
The two situations for students is where they need to travel for the training and if they don’t need too. If they don’t need to travel they will have to pay for flights or transport, car hire, accommodation and other expenses. If they would have been local to the training they would still have extra petrol, tolls and parking.
There are heaps of costs you incur when delivering face to face training like Hardware, Rent, Catering, Printing, Electricity, Water, Gas and many other incidentals. If you are delivering the training remotely to the customer then there is logistics, travel expenses, teacher overtime or higher pay. These all add up quickly and are a huge reason for moving your training online. A further explanation of the expenses you might incur or to know more about mobile classrooms look at this article.
Article : Setting Up a Mobile Computer Classroom
Live Question & Answer
One of the biggest problems with eLearning, forums and other similar types of training online is the time in which it takes for teachers or other students to respond to requests. For anyone that has done any of these types of training at anything other than the introductory level this is a huge negative to the student speed of learning and experience. The ability to ask a question during a live class and have it answered straight away or discussed with the class is a huge advantage of live virtual classrooms. Instead of a day or two turn around time on a simple question it is answered then and there.
Live Virtual Classroom training allows you to teach students in the quickest way possible of all the online teaching methods. In a week training class I can personally introduce and get students to complete exercises on what would normally take them a whole semester (6 month course) at any other higher education facility. I know this from personal experience with many Vocational, University and Postgraduate courses I have completed over the years. This provides the same level of content as a full 9-5 week of training to student except online.
Highest Justifiable Revenue
This style of training allows you to get the highest justifiable revenue for training. The average in classroom daily rate for professional technical training is $200 USD to $500 USD per student per day. Often business will offer 10% to 20% discount for online training to sweeten the deal and encourage first time online students. Alternately for a class of up to 10 students for a single customer you can charge $5,000USD to $15,000USD. These figures are based on Vendor training that is run every day by fortune 500 companies to their customers. The prices will always vary depending on what you are teaching and what courses the training is build into.
Integration to Blended Learning
This style of training can be build into any Blended Learning delivery approach as Universities, Vocational Institutions or private training organisations as well. It can take the place of standard tutoring sessions or even compressed delivery style sessions with projects and assessments due after the training. This is a great way to make your training more flexible for modern workers with higher engagement. Some Universities use eLearning and Web Conferences, while others force online students to come to campus for study blocks. With current technologies this is a great replacement for all of these methods and introduces some personal time with the lecturer or tutor. As well as giving them the ability to support students live while in class.
With technology always comes technology problems. In the case of Live Virtual Classrooms you have multiple technologies that can give you problems. I personally have found them all very mature and stable technologies but it could be something as simple as the teacher not being trained properly. Disconnections will happen and you will have some technical issues occasionally as well.
Provide adequate training for teachers on each technology and most of these problems will go away. That and making sure you test your online classroom before training and the students have pretested their ability to connect. It is also a good idea to forewarning students before they pay so they accept enrollment and pay knowing full well there could be technology issues. Also at the start of class I always give the students a secondary communications path if they have issues to contact me on.
Of the many online classes I have run I have not had to cancel a single one. The most I have had to do is end training early for that day to sort out a problem and start the next day. The times I have had to do that I can count one hand and that was typically issues outside of my control.
Reading Body Language
As a classroom teacher I did initially find the absence of the ability to read body language a huge issue. Assuming of course you are not doing live web cam feeds with your classroom. If you are showing your screen to students without seeing their web cam feeds knowing just whether they understand what they are taught can be a problem.
You have to step up your active listening skills to constantly confirm understanding in the classroom. You also need to watch the student screens for when what they say is not in correlation with where they should be in training. This does not help you when students get frustrated but I find a one on one session before or after class and letting them know you are there to help often does.
NOTE : Remember that nothing beats a face to face classroom and sometimes you will still need them. But this is the bet online alternative to that style of expensive training.
Nothing is more effective then a teacher coming over and physically walking you through a problem. Checking the non-verbal ques and body language for understanding and assuming a helpful and understanding posture, manner and tone of voice. Moving around a classroom also refocuses the students as you pass by each desk checking in on where they are at. The level of activity of the teacher is also infectious on the students as well as a simple smile.
You can display your web cam to students in a Virtual Classroom but I personally find it a distraction to students. When you screw up your face as you try to help a student fix a problem they are having with the training is always very amusing. Maybe while introductions are happening at the start of the class have the web cam on and then turn it off when things get serious. This is one you will struggle a bit with when first teaching online and you may not be able to replace.
If this students are taking the class from home with their family interrupting or at work with the boss popping in. These and many other issues with not controlling the student learning environment can effect their ability to learn.
In the initial course acceptance email I normally mention these distractions to students as well as a few ways to stop them. It is great they can each have an individualized learning environment that helps them learn the best. But get them to mark themselves unavailable on work calendars or tell family that when the door is shut they are busy and not to be disturbed.
Training your teachers on the new technologies and getting them comfortable with using them on their own has always been an issue. Typically these people were hired as face to face classroom teachers and may buck at moving to an online environment. Often these psychological issues get blamed on the technology not working.
This can be handled with proper training, updating job descriptions and key performance indicators (KPI’s). I first let them sit in on a course as a student, then as a co-teacher, then leading the class with a second co-teacher and finally on their own. Depending on the IT skill of your teachers you may miss a few steps.
Along with the ability to teach globally comes the interesting issues of cultural differences. I have taught face to face all over the world as well as online to students from all over the world. I have made my fair share of mistakes when teaching to different cultures. Shaking a head side to side in India is a yes for instance. That one I only discovered after thinking the class didn’t understand and attacked it from different angles. So how to you cope with this in a virtual training environment?
I have found most cultures are flexible with online delivery styles but merely putting a note in your course acceptance email about notifying you of any special requirements works. I also ask the students at the start of class if anyone had any special times they need out of training or anything else I need to know. I always let them know they can private message me in the chat at any time with requests as well.
Not everyone speaks English and for those in your classes that don’t speak fluent English they could have huge problems. Letting the students know what language the training will be run is very important.
I have nothing but respect for people that can speak multiple languages and I know their pain currently learning Spanish myself. When teaching online I include a note in my course acceptance email that the course will be run in English or whatever other language. I also then at the start of class say exactly this:
“During class if English is not your first language please tell me if I start talking too quickly. You can ask me to slow down or repeat anything if you miss it via the chat. Either to the group or private message. I promise I won’t get offended and would much rather you understand.”
This is always an interesting one and something you have to decide on with each class. Are your students all from one time zone or are they from different time zones around the world and what do you do about that?
I know some businesses just say we run in our time zone and that is that. I find that a very unprofessional way to run live online training. They are paying you to teach them. It is much easier for you to put yourself out and teach during the night then it is to put out 10 students if from a single time zone. The least you should do is vary start and finish times to suit where possible. It also earns you points with your students when they find out you put yourself out for them.
While this is technically a con as part of all the other methods of teaching online it can also be seen as a pro for intermediate to advanced style classes. Typically I run with only about 10 students in a single class when delivering in this style online. I have taught up to 20 students though but would not recommend it for a beginner to this style of training. I would even say start with 5 students for your first class while you are getting used to the technologies and teaching method.
I bet you thought there would be no solution to small class sizes in this style of delivery. Well there is. You can have one instructor and additional support staff that have taken the training to provide student support. This is related to technical and course material. Each support staff member can handle around 20 students so you can then scale the training up if required.
You just need to let students know that when they have issues to ask in the chat and then two things happen. First the tutor chimes in to nominate themselves to help with the issue. Then they notify the instructor either verbally or via private chat they are helping someone. This also means your tutors don’t have to be physically located with the teacher as well and can be remote.
We already established that nothing with technology yet can replace a live classroom experience but I am sure it is coming. I believe the Pros and solutions to the Cons allow you to run almost the same as the real world experience. I also think that the advantage of the reduced costs and global availability of training far outweigh the Cons. While this article is focused on adult learning and not Kindergarten to Grade 12 (K-12) it does not mean it could not be used for distance education as well. If you use it for K-12 you need to also consider the social building, morals and other life lessons real world teachers provide. This is outside the scope of this article but there are ways these things can be replaced.
Now that you have looked at the Pros and Cons of teaching Live Virtual Classrooms take a look at this article on some tips and tricks for your first online class.