Weighing eLearning vs. VILT

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(If you’re new to this series, here is some brief background to help you catch up:

Given the unique training challenges that the COVID-19 pandemic poses for us all, this series explores the various considerations for delivering an effective VILT (Virtual Instructor-Led Training). I recommend that you read the first two posts in sequence, and then from this one on, you can even pick and choose what’s of greater relevance to you.

  1. Training in a Corona-Hit World
  2. Choosing to Conduct a VILT )

We talked previously about considering a VILT for your training needs. After seeing how many elements there are to consider, and how some of these can be as easily a disadvantage as they can be an advantage, it’s natural to wonder if your organization should consider eLearning instead. So, let’s address that today, shall we?

To choose between eLearning and VILT, we need to consider the following factors and each organization’s status where each factor is concerned.

At this time, it is important to be adaptative and responsive to the crisis. You may need to compromise and settle for a solution that is less than ideal, but is feasible for the need of the hour. It is better to have informed learners (even if they aren’t wild about the training experience), than uninformed learners with higher risk exposure. So, I would always recommend that you consider the entirety of the context you’re working in and be pragmatic.

Examples of things to consider:

  • Full synchrony is no doubt more attractive, but how much time (of training organization, IT support, facilitator and employee bandwidth) is actually available?
  • You may not get an innovation award for delivering a normal eLearning – it’s certainly not a new solution! But does it give a higher assurance of getting the job done in an optimal way?
  • If the message to be conveyed is basic, short, and simple, don’t beat it to death especially now; see if even just a well-designed mailer or impactful infographic can get the job done.
  • If you have an LMS set up already and have been delivering eLearning, and you don’t have the virtual set up for a VILT, now may not be the best time to explore it.

You will be relieved to know that neither of the options (eLearning or VILT) is associated right off-the-bat with a particular cost implication. So, both are probably viable for you from this consideration. For both, the actual price depends entirely on the design, what kind of content you are working with, the level of sophistication, whether it is a from-scratch training development or more of a conversion, etc. Neither of the delivery modes’ unique needs has a major cost impact.

Particularly in this time of flux, everyone’s schedule just got turned on its head. We’re working from home, without daycare, without domestic help, probably competing with a spouse and a child for broadband bandwidth and a spot in the house with decent Wi-Fi signal strength (assuming there is broadband at home), waiting in queues just to be able to pick up essentials, helping our kids with their sudden switch to online learning — not to mention some of us may have ailing or ageing family members who need to be looked after.

There are going to be a ton of distractions, interruptions and fails, adorable and otherwise. (See? Just lost you for 5 minutes there, didn’t I!)

So consider how lengthy, technical or dense the content is, and if it will be more merciful to give your learners a mode that can withstand the interruptions and distractions. The other aspect is also considering if they are feeling isolated and disconnected with their teams, if a discussion-driven training will be a relief and morale boost.

How many learners do you have to cater to, and across how many time zones do you have to coordinate for this training? – Remember to consider time zones not only in the light of learners but also all the support functions involved if this is to be a synchronous training: IT helpdesk, facilitation team, training coordinators, SMEs, and so on.

For that matter, you know how for some classroom trainings particularly to do with change adoption or incidence responses, you have to kick off the training with a quick opening by a senior stakeholder from the function? You do that because if your learners aren’t buying the necessity or importance of the training (and change in behavior), or the need for their cooperation right from that start, your entire training session is a write-off. Well, remember to factor that senior stakeholder’s time zone as well!

We have been in sessions where even to dial in the stakeholder, we did need to consider this because there were training bottlenecks where unless something was resolved from the business side, learners were just not ready to continue with the process training!

Which brings us to the next consideration…

A key element to think about is whether the VILT is going to be delivered by a subject matter expert in the function or an expert facilitator but without function specialization. Why does this matter?

Not everyone who is good at their job, is good at teaching that job interestingly and effectively, that too on a tricky medium like a VILT. And factor in that there is probably going to be more preparation needed from the expert ahead of the session just so that the virtual session goes smoothly.

On the other hand, a professional facilitator or trainer may be able to adapt more easily to the medium of a VILT, but typically for in-depth functional content, if there’s an opportunity to interact learners will ask technical questions as well. This is usually managed by partnering with someone from the business for the delivery of the session. (Either you have Q&A breakouts with the domain expert, or they are actually there for the whole session.) Coordination and the ability to huddle quickly and discuss what to do is just that little bit more harassing and unfamiliar with a VILT format.

There are some kinds of content that are better suited for a VILT than eLearning and somewhere the reverse is true. For instance, when you need a human touch to go with the learning message for a ‘soft’ push (for change adoption, or ethical or reputational aspects), personalized feedback, or the ability for learners to share and discuss perceptions, perspectives, etc. it is a good idea to consider VILTs than eLearning.

But there are times when a training is about a software system, or content that is similarly abstract enough that physicality of performance is a non-issue and straightforward cognitive performance may be more in focus. At those times, eLearning may be a better option to consider.

Then, there will be a third bracket of content to consider, which will not translate well in either of these formats. For example, specialized fire response, tying of knots, calibration of lab instruments — anything with a significant psychomotor component. Even if these were previously demonstrated in a classroom training, the camera work needed to convey the demonstration over a VILT is significantly of a higher level. It becomes tricky when you recognize that right now we are working from home so the facilitator will also be the camera person, and they have to ensure that they make the motions to be shown exactly at the right height and distance from their webcam. And hopefully, this is clear enough a transmission feed to the learners, who in turn hopefully have good enough broadband connections to see the whole demonstration without choppy lags. That still leaves a problem of how to tackle practice. In short, this doesn’t translate well to either format.

Pre-Corona, we used to have weekly yoga sessions in our office. And when it comes to even solutioning, at Upside we follow the yoga philosophy of ‘starting from where you are’. Just as suddenly one day you cannot (reasonably) tell someone to stand upside down if they can’t even bend to touch their toes, you cannot expect to seamlessly and perfectly deliver a whole new way of training overnight.

We need to consider what existing infrastructure there is to work with. The best solution would most likely start from there, because “the best” in training design is never a standalone concept – it is also “the best for a specific context and set of needs”.

If you’re considering investing in developing your training infrastructure, that’s fantastic! But consider this too — is the focus of the investment going to be for a way of life going forward or a makeshift requirement just for the present? We wouldn’t recommend huge investments of effort, time, or money for the latter while we would recommend investing those resources sufficiently for any long-term infrastructure. Organizations so rarely get do-overs, so these infrastructure-building activities are typically once-in-a-lifetime.

Never bank on being able to play video and animations over screenshares. Even in simple web presentations with corporate infrastructure and connectivity, this can get laggy and totally break the flow of the session. Now with the additional complication of a potentially overloaded residential broadband connection (see our previous post for why this is so), including rich media is doubly undesirable.

If you’re delivering eLearning over an LMS or content player that can only support online viewing, this may still be a problem. But if your LMS supports offline viewing (most modern ones do), or you get something like our custom offline player app as an add-on to your LMS, that takes care of most bandwidth problems for you.

…. That still leaves one glaring question, right?

You may have read through this post checking off points in favor of eLearning or VILT for your organization. But what if it’s a mixed bag, with combined factors to consider?

Well, honestly, that’s why we have about 50 awards recognizing our design capability! There would be no prizes for anyone if it was as simple as just using a checklist or formula for solutioning. Have a conversation with us, and we’ll be happy to help you unpack your unique tangle of considerations, challenges, and needs. We can work out what will be a best-fit compromise for your priorities.

Looking to Go Virtual?
Talk to our Digital Learning Experts to understand how can we help you transform your ILTs to Digital Learning quickly and on a budget. Or write to us at elearning@upsidelearning.com

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