Developing the 'Virtual Trainer'

Developing the 'Virtual Trainer'

A virtual classroom (VC) system is a learning environment where a course leader and participants in different locations interact with one another, much as they would in a physical classroom, but remotely via web technology. The unique demands of this environment place a great deal of stress on course leaders and structured skills development is usually needed before they feel truly comfortable in this role. With this in mind The Training Foundation has developed a specialist certificated course entitled The Virtual Trainer.

Whilst VC systems have been available for years, they represent a strangely neglected area of the e-Learning scene. e-Learning Researchers have tended to overlook the medium , perhaps because cosmetic similarities with conventional classroom delivery makes it seem less interesting in terms of pedagogy. Vendors do not seem to regard the market for VC course materials as large enough to promote it. Even those charged with e-Learning strategy within major organisations are prone to overlook the virtual classroom option as they wrestle with other issues.

Because the systems differ in terms of the precise functionality provided, all VC vendors offer some form of user training. However, it would be a big mistake to assume that your key challenge relates to learning how to operate the new VC application. Don't forget that the effectiveness of any VC system will depend entirely on the skill, expertise and good judgement exercised by the course leader in the process of both course design and delivery. In this respect the Virtual Classroom is no different from its more concrete real life counterpart!

In addition to the standard e-tutoring skills normally associated with supporting learners remotely, Virtual Trainers have a number of specialist challenges to address:

• Selecting a virtual medium for lessons
• Preparing real-time online lessons
• Applying communication techniques in the virtual classroom
• Making the most of the audience
• Encouraging participation and collaboration
• Using appropriate question techniques, given the limitations of the VC interface
• Managing difficult situations and learners
• Addressing multi-cultural audiences in a Virtual Classroom
• Opening and closing virtual classroom sessions
• Applying the principles of using a virtual classroom

With this in mind The Training Foundation has developed a specialist certificated course entitled The Virtual Trainer. Marianne Falck of AstraZeneca completed The Virtual Trainer course from her base in Sweden. "I liked the structure of the course i.e. explanation of theory and tools, written assignments and then practice. Certainly I will use my newly gained skills as quickly as possible. Now I can host and tutor an on-line session without any fear."

Maria Wilcockson of Prudential successfully completed The Virtual Trainer programme last year: "The course made me feel a lot more confident as a trainer, more technically competent as I've added another useful skill to my portfolio. I liked exploring the tools (especially whiteboard and breakout rooms). I also liked to see a well delivered and smooth session without any technology hiccups. Now I can deliver a live session with lot more confidence and feel happier to have rounded e-professional skills."

Whilst The Virtual Trainer programme happens to employ vendor tools, all the skills covered represent generic best-practice and are non-vendor specific.

Helen Molloy of Rolls Royce could hardly wait to apply her new found skills: "I will use all that I have learnt by running a session on teleconferencing and webinar etiquette for the ERP Centre of Competence leadership team in the very near future. Now I can say that I am qualified to educate others in best practice and use of the technology."