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If you ask 10 different trainers to define "virtual training," you will probably get 10 different responses. To one person it might be talking a self-paced e-learning course, and to another it might mean a Second Life meeting. Virtual training is a broad term with many different interpretations.

In some ways, it's like the word health. When you tell someone that you want to "get healthy," they might think you will be changing your eating habits. To someone else it might mean exercising, getting more sleep, or losing weight. Health is a multifaceted word. In reality, the full scope of the word health encompasses all aspects of a person's well-being: physical, social, emotional, and spiritual. Yet when people talk about their health, they are usually referring to just one specific aspect of it. It's the same with virtual training. Virtual training is multifaceted, and could mean many things depending upon its context and who is talking about it.

Starting with the basics

Training classes help people learn new skills. "Traditional" training classes have predefined learning objectives, are held at a set time and place, and are taught by a trainer. Participants register for the class, show up at the pre-assigned time, and leave with new knowledge and skills ready to be applied back on the job.

These traditional training classes vary in style, length, and format. They may be highly participatory or they could be lecture-based. The class size may be small enough for intimate discussion around a table or large enough to fill an auditorium. The class may be two hours or two days in length. It may be contained in one short meeting or it may span several months.

Virtual training has the same type of options. It can vary in style, length, and format.

The most common terms associated with virtual training include:

  • Online learning
  • E-learning
  • Synchronous
  • Asynchronous
  • Webcast
  • Webinar
  • Web 2.0
  • Informal learning
  • Blended learning
  • Virtual instructor-led training

Online Learning? E-Learning?

When personal computers were introduced into the workplace and our daily lives, we use then to automate process and simplify routines. It was natural for training to follow. Trainers began looking ways to automate learning, and traditional training moved onto the computer.

At first it was called "electronic learning," or e-Learning for short, because it was learning via computer. The term e-Learning has evolve to refer to any type of training that requires a computer.

After the introduction of the Internet and web browsers, trainers took advantage of this new technology. When you accessed training via the Internet, it was called online training.

We can distinguish between online learning and eLearning by looking at the learner's interaction. It's a very subtle yet important distinction.

Some online learning is self-paced, completed individually without any interaction with others. However, most types of online learning occur in conjunction with other learners. Learners collaborate with each other and with a trainer. Online learning is an umbrella term that refers to all types of interactive training that uses an Internet connected computer.

On the other hand, eLearning more commonly refers only to self-paced individual training. Participants taking an eLearning course would log into a website and complete an assignment on their own. There is usually no interaction with other learners, or with a trainer. While the eLearning course uses a website, it is distinguished by its individual nature.

Synchronous versus asynchronous

Synchronous and asynchronous refer to the meeting time of the training. In a synchronous training event, the participants and trainer meet together at a set day and time. Synchronous training events usually use an Internet-based software program specifically created to host online meetings, events, and training.

In asynchronous training, the participants and trainer do not meet together at the same time. Asynchronous refers to self-paced learning that occurs over time as the participant's schedules allow. Common tools used in an online asynchronous training event include threaded discussion boards, email messages, podcasts, and wikis.

Both synchronous and asynchronous training events usually include opportunities for collaboration and interaction between participants. In a synchronous event, the collaboration happens together in real time, and in asynchronous training the collaboration occurs intermittently over time. The main differences between them are the software tools used to conduct the training and the timing of the events.

Face-to-face training versus Virtual Training

When the participants are together with the trainer in the same room, it's called face-to-face training. When participants are separated by distance and meet online, it's called virtual training.

Virtual training can be audio-only by conferences call, however most virtual training also includes a visual connection via a shared website or collaboration software.

Online presentations, meetings, and webcast

An online presentation, sometimes called webcast, could be compared to an in-person seminar. In this type of seminar, a presenter speaks to the attendees. There is little interaction between the presenter and participants, except for possible Q&A opportunities during the program.

I recently attended a webcast sponsored by ASTD. At the designated start time, I logged onto a website and saw the speakers and their presentation slides. I estimate there were at least a thousand other participants around the word logged in as well. There was limited interaction between the speakers and attendees, except for the ability for attendees to submit questions electronically. The speakers addressed a few of the questions during the program, but the rest went unanswered. While it was an expertly produced, informative webcast, I would not consider it to be virtual training.

While it is possible to create limited interactivity in this type of event, it's mostly just a talking head who is sharing information. This is not considered training in a face-to-face environment, and therefore would not be considered training in the virtual environment. A webcast is not training.

Webinars and Virtual training

Most of the people use the terms webinars and virtual training interchangeably. The word webinar sounds like seminar and it has become the word du jour for synchronous online training.

While most people do not distinguish between webinars and virtual instructor-led training, it is clear they have different intended outcomes and therefore are not the same thing. The goal of a webinar is to impart knowledge, while the goal of virtual training is to improve performance.

Webinars raise participant awareness of a topic. They are used to impart information to the attendees. For example, if a corporate human resources department needed to share information with employees about an upcoming annual benefit enrollment period, it may choose to share that information via webinar. This webinar could include interactivity, with polling questions and chat, but it would not be considered a training class. While webinars may have two-way communications between presenter and participants, they may or may not ultimately result in the participant's behavior change or have an impact on participant's performance after the event. Webinars are simply an online opportunity to interactively share information.

Webinars are helpful and useful in the right context. They have their place and purpose. There are times when participants simply need awareness of new information, and interactively will help communicate it.

A virtual training class is different from a webinar because it has predefined learning objectives. These objectives are tied to performance outcomes. And ideally, these performance outcomes will have positive impact on business results. During a virtual class, the trainer will check for knowledge transfer. In addition, participants have an opportunity to practice and apply their new skills.

Blended learning, Web 2.0, Web 3.0, Informal learning, Virtual Training and moving from traditional to virtual training will be the topics for the second part of this article.


ASTD, 2010 State of the industry report, ASTD Press, 2010.
Beich, Elaine. Training for Dummies. Hoboken, NJ: Wiley, 2005.
Cindy Huggett. Virtual Training Basics, ASTD Press, 2010

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Informal learning

Much of what is learned by someone actually takes place outside of the formal classroom. This is called informal learning. Informal learning can be on-the-job training where someone learns by doing. It can also be reading a book or asking a colleague for assistance. Most informal learning is not captured or recorded as training. It simply happens out of necessity.

Informal learning accounts for over 75 percent of the learning taking place in organisations today, according to ASTD 2010 studies. Much informal learning takes place over the web as learners visit websites and collaborate with one another.

Informal learning should be on the minds of trainers who are paying attention to trends in the workplace learning and performance industry. Informal learning significantly influences organizational knowledge and employee performance.

Virtual Training

So, what is virtual training? Virtual Training occurs as a synchronous online event, with participants and trainer meeting together at the same time. Because a training professional facilitates the event, it is sometimes called virtual instructor-led training (vILT).

Virtual training uses a software program specifically designed for real-time collaboration on the web. This software application is called a virtual classroom. Some common virtual classroom programs are:

  • Cisco WebEx Trainin Centre
  • Adobe Acrobat Connect Pro
  • Microsoft Office Live Meeting
  • Citrix Go To Webinar
  • Elluminate Live!

Virtual training can be a one-time event or part of a blended learning solution. It has learning objectives and performance driven outcomes. The participant attends to acquire new knowledge, close a performance gap, and practice new skills.

Remember, virtual training is not a meeting held via videoconference. Nor is it a webcast or self-paced web course. Virtual training is also not traditional classroom training transferred to the web. It has more nuances than a face-to-face class and different set of interaction dynamics.

Virtual training is a synchronous online event, with participants and a trainer meeting together at the same time, using a software program designed as a virtual classroom.

Moving from Traditional to Virtual Training

If you are asked to take the material from a physical classroom training course and deliver it in the online classroom, be cautious! It's not a one-to-one translation. One minute of classroom time does not equal one minute of virtual classroom time. Some face-to-face activities simply don't translate or even make sense online.

If you need to turn a traditional class to a virtual one, follow the three basic guidelines for success:

  1. Begin with the learning objectives.Go back to the training class' original design documents and review the performance outcomes. What should learners know or do as a result of participating in the class? Establish these as the groundwork for your virtual training.
  2. Determine the overall format that could achieve this outcome.Consider creating a blended solution with a mixture of methods. Ask yourself: what activities could you ask the learners do on their own versus what should be done together virtually?
  3. Take the opportunity to re-create the training from scratch.Use activity ideas from the classroom content, and make full use of the virtual classroom software tools available to engage participants.


ASTD, 2010 State of the industry report, ASTD Press, 2010.
Beich, Elaine. Training for Dummies. Hoboken, NJ: Wiley, 2005.
Cindy Huggett. Virtual Training Basics, ASTD Press, 2010

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The Vocational Education and Training Accreditation Board (VETAB) recently issued a guideline for RTOs on Organisational Capacity.

The guideline clarifies how registered providers can:

  1. Allocate floor space per student for their premises
  2. Apply maximum overseas student numbers per class.

This "Guideline" is part of a set of actions VETAB has taken during the last six months in order to improve quality management systems standards of Registered training Organisation in NSW, and as a respond to the industry needs in this area.

The National Code of Practice for Registration Authorities and Providers of Education and Training to Overseas Students 2007 (the National Code 2007) at Standard 14 requires that:

"The staff of registered providers are suitably qualified or experienced in relation to the function they perform for students. The educational resources of registered providers support the delivery of courses to students. The premises of registered providers, including the floor space available for each student, support students to achieve their course outcomes."

Main issues addressed on this "Guideline for RTOs on organizational capacity are as follow:

  1. Floor areas in general purposes classrooms must not be less than 2 square metres per student.

Chronology of this issue:

The former National Code of Practice for Registration Authorities and Providers of Education and Training to Overseas Students 2001 (the 2001 Code), Clause 18 of Part C, stated that:

"The premises in which the registered provider delivers its CRICOS-registered courses must be adequate for the courses to be provided in terms of space and facilities. Floor areas in general purposes classrooms must not be less than 2 square metres per student if brought into use after 1 July 2001. If brought into use before that date, floor areas in general purposes classrooms must not be less than 1.6 squares metres per student."

The 2001 Code has been superseded by the National Code 2007 which does not prescribe a particular area per student.

VETAB has decided Registered providers should have regard to the historical material, namely the 2 square metres standard, and apply this measure of student space since it is considered appropriate for the delivery of training and assessment to overseas students in New South Wales.

  1. The National Code 2007 does not prescribe formal class sizes for vocational education and training. At standard 14.1 the National Code 2007 states only that:

"The registered provider must have and implement policies and procedures to ensure its staffing resources are adequate and have the capabilities as required by the quality assurance framework applying to the course."

However, VETAB decided that Registered providers of courses for overseas students must ensure that delivery and assessments in the theory-based subjects of Training Package qualifications are conducted in maximum class sizes of no more than 30 enrolled students. Exceptions may be allowed provided the learning and assessment strategies allow.

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