With organizations conducting business virtually and employees working remotely now more than ever, employer facilitated training is also being delivered in virtual environments. Virtual environment (VE) is at the core of many trainings, education, and entertainment platforms due to its potential to advance personal development, knowledge, and talent. Organizational leaders offer mandatory in-house or external trainings to new employees during the onboarding process as well as to current employees as part of ongoing professional development.
These trainings address a wide range of needs, expectations, and requirements and involve investments in time, financial, and human resources. Considering the current external environment and its impact on business volatility and emotional instability, equipping employees by offering trainings on task-related, skill development, personal health, and well-being would be a viewed as a personal investment in employee success. These trainings have the potential to not only increase work-place productivity and outcomes, but increase work-place morale, commitment, and retention.
It is worthwhile to understand what encompasses the term “virtual training.” One might hear of a variety of terms used interchangeably to describe training using different technology. Some of these include web-based training, virtual training environment, hybrid training, blended learning, virtual reality, immersive virtual training, and integrative technologies. Of these, web-based training is often referred to as virtual training or distance learning with uses of cloud-based computing tools for access, administration, delivery, and analytics. Web-based training can be live or at a time and place which is most convenient. To others, virtual training is a delivery method or platform for training which could include webinars, webcasts, and online presentations.
Thanks to advances of computer technology, access to learning has no boundaries. Virtual training can be seen different through the lens of the learner or the educator, the platform chosen to deliver training, the platform chosen to access training, the goal of the educator, or the goal of the learner. These nuances could also lead to lack of clarity for the employer as they make decisions to invest financial resources to provide opportunities for employees. To help understand the scope, breadth, and depth of virtual training/learning platforms, we first present popular definitions, examples, modes, platforms, functionality, and efficacy of such training.
Definition – Understanding What Virtual Training Really Is
In “The Virtual Training Guidebook” (2013), author Cindy Huggett emphasizes the importance of clarifying what your organization means by “virtual training.” She emphasizes there are as many types of training classes as there are definitions of virtual training – which is why it is important to get everyone involved on the same page. Accordingly, Huggett, defines virtual training as “a highly interactive synchronous online instructor-led training class, with defined learning objectives, with participants who are individually connected from geographically dispersed locations, using a web-based classroom platform.”
The Virtual Training Team (VTT) experts in workshops and design solutions, define virtual training as “a training method in which a virtual environment is used by a trainer/coach to show, explain and teach certain skills in order to help others learn.”
Training Industry defines virtual training as “training done in a virtual or simulated environment, or when the learner and the instructor are in separate locations. Virtual training can be done synchronously or asynchronously. Virtual training and virtual training environments are designed to simulate the traditional classroom or learning experience.”
Modalities – Modes or Platforms of Virtual Training
Based on the definitions above, a significant distinction in virtual training modalities lies in the format of delivery and access. Virtual training could be delivered synchronously or asynchronously. In synchronous training, all participants are present at the same time in a virtual classroom as in traditional classroom teaching. It requires meeting at a set time and date. Web conferencing, video conferencing, live streaming, virtual immersive environments, and telephone are examples of synchronous technology. In asynchronous learning, participants access course materials flexibly on their own schedules. Message board forums, email, video, and audio recordings, print materials, voicemail, mail, and fax are examples of asynchronous delivery technology. The two methods can be combined and has come to be called “blended learning” or “hybrid learning.” In the next section, we offer the reader a review of both synchronous and asynchronous training modalities offered using computer technologies in a virtual platform.
Internet and MOOC
The internet is a virtual library where training manuals and handbooks can be easily accessed from anywhere in the world. The internet also provides an interactive environment where people can discuss training-related issues, exchange personal experiences, and communicate with online trainers who can explain and clarify problematic subjects.
Massive open online courses (MOOCs) are free online courses offered on an online learning platform to learners at every stage. MOOCs have open access, enrollment, and interactive participation through the internet. This platform supports delivery of traditional course materials, such as filmed lectures, readings, and problem sets, as well as user forums or social media discussions which support community interactions among students, professors, and teaching assistants.
Web-based Virtual Teams Training
As internet-based communication technologies have become more accessible, one viable way of achieving cross-cultural and virtual teams training has become the use of web-based, virtual team projects, during which learners from different countries complete a speciﬁc task together. Such projects are used by academic programs in professional communication and as part of ongoing workplace training.
Virtual reality, immersive virtual reality, virtual reality-based training systems
Virtual reality (VR) is currently being used as a job training tool and as knowledge acquisition training systems in several different application areas. VR simulations are used in medicine (training surgeons in laparoscopic techniques), aviation, military, and engineering (training in gas metal arc welding and casting design). Immersive virtual reality (IVR) training using 3D goggles is being used for interpersonal skills training in organizations. IVR catalyzes the internalization of knowledge and enables the trainee to gain tacit knowledge before undergoing on-the-job training at a real-time operation site. Virtual reality-based training systems (VRTS) are advanced computer assisted training systems using VR technology. Compared with traditional training approaches, these systems train all trainees to properly operate new equipment before it is installed. The important perceptual cues and multi-modal feedback (e.g., visual, auditory, and haptic) provided to trainees enable VRTS to transfer virtual training more effectively to real-world operation skills. More importantly, the systems can provide higher degree of freedom for operation and the results of improper operation can be simulated without incurring the associated costs in terms of human injury and equipment repair.
Virtual environment, virtual training environments
Virtual environment (VE) refers to a computer-generated, 3D spatial environment based on the real-world or abstract objects and data. It possesses the features of 3D immersion, multisensory cures, frames of reference (spatial metaphors which can enhance the meaningfulness of data and provide qualitative insights) and employs an advanced human-computer interface (including advanced displays) as well as modes of interaction to engage multiple human sensorial channels (e.g., visual, auditory/hearing, and haptic/touch) during an interaction experience. Virtual training environments (VTEs) are helpful in training for complex collaborative tasks, especially if training in real situations is not possible, too expensive, or too dangerous. For example, police can train for complex collaborative tasks like interacting with a helicopter crew.
Virtual learning environment, managed learning environment
Virtual learning environments (VLE) provide tools that support e-learning through provision of learning materials, links, online communication tools (such as electronic bulletin boards and live chat facilities), and administrative and assessment tools. VLEs are a set of components, which enable teachers and students to participate in online interactions of various types, including online training. When such VLEs are integrated with other information systems and processes of the institution, e.g., student records, the resultant system is known as a managed learning environment.
Hybrid virtual environment or hybrid cloud-oriented educational environment
Synchronic hybrid environments are technologies of full learning environments which allow students to interact online and in the classroom with each other as well as with an instructor. Hybrid cloud-oriented educational environment of a higher educational establishment is the system which combines academic cloud of an educational establishment and external academic clouds based on integration of resources into the educational environment of another educational establishment.
Value – Functionality of Virtual Training/Learning
Before diving into the value of virtual training, it would be worthwhile to acknowledge some of the challenges. Virtual training can be offered in various forms, but in all forms, it requires the use of technology. One of the primary requirements to deliver or participate is having access to the needed technological platforms. This would require employers invest in the technology needed to deliver virtual trainings and/or employees incur personal expenses. Once the technology has been purchased, there will be cost (time and money) for set up and implementation, which would include user training for both educator and learner. Hopefully, this would be a one-time, initial expense. Some other limiting factors include, added screen time, lack of physical mobility, difficulty concentrating, managing time (particularly if training is self-paced and asynchronous), and isolation.
Practically speaking, virtual training has several benefits. It can be both convenient and immersive. Similar to in-person instruction, virtual courses are instructor-led but technology-enabled. No matter where the learner is at physically, students’ get equal attention, have the same opportunity for engagement, and achieve the same learning objectives as compared those physically present in the room.
Virtual training provides more access at less cost. With in-person training, employers must evaluate the cost of travel and related expenses (airfare, car rentals, shuttles, meals, hotels, and more), opportunity cost of being away from the office, and fees for the training itself. These costs quickly add up, which could force managers to select only a few among their qualified employees to receive training. Virtual training allows your employees to take a virtual class at home, at their desks or even as a group in the office conference room. This platform helps to minimize the cost per employee, to reduce the time your staff is away from the office and to maximize training opportunities, perhaps by even allowing even more of your team members to enroll in additional classes without inflating your training budget.
Because of the ease of accessibility to virtual training, organizations can create a culture of continuous learning. By providing opportunities and access to training and encouraging employees to enroll, you enable your teams to learn the techniques and technologies they need to be more productive in their jobs, which will improve both employee morale and retention and organizational goals and outcomes.
Theoretically, to assess the functionality or efficacy of virtual training, it is first important to establish the learning outcomes that indicate successful training. Learning outcomes could also be assessed in terms of changes in one’s cognitive (learning), aﬀective (attitude and behavior), and skills (knowledge and practice) following participation in a training program. Comparative studies could be conducted to examine the efficacy of virtual training in different training environments (no training, in-person, MOOC, VR, VE, VTE, VTT, etc.) to real-world situations.
You may be surprised that VE training can even surpass real-world training. For complex tasks that require continuous communication among members of a diverse team, virtual training can be as efficient as in-person training regarding knowledge acquisition and knowledge transfer.
The power and impact of virtual training should not be underestimated. Organizations can employ virtual training systems/environments for long-term sustainability and on-going development. Offering educational opportunities to employees may be reciprocated with more motivation, commitment, higher perceived value of the organization, and employees investing knowledge gained back into the organization. Employee education promotes business continuity.