An Expert’s Take on Virtual Instructor-led Training (VILT)

The web is floating with information on virtual instructor-led training, but what should you believe? Here’s an exclusive interview with our in-house expert who gives insights on 10 of the most-asked questions on VILT!

VILT Demystified – In Conversation with our In-house Expert

Virtual instructor-led training or VILT is a hot topic of conversation in all corporate L&D circles these days. According to a report by Training Industry, their web traffic on searches related to VILT and virtual classrooms has increased by 8135%. (That is just… woah!!) So, bowing down to this popular demand, I thought why not consult our in-house expert, Shalini Merugu, to get some insights on this sudden popularity of VILT and how much it can contribute to corporate training – now and in the future.

Shalini is a versatile Learning Design professional with 15+ years of experience in Instructional Design (ILT, VILT, and eLearning), Customer Training, Technical Documentation, User Assistance Solutions, Academic Teaching, and Content Writing.Her experience in designing eLearning solutions along with the design and delivery of instructor-led training (both virtual and in a physical classroom) helps her leverage the strengths of each medium to consistently create the best possible training solution, ensuring that nothing is lost while converting from one format to another.

So, without further ado, let’s take a look at Shalini’s answers to the ten most frequently asked questions on virtual instructor-led training.

Explore how to master the art of designing and delivering effective virtual learning!

The Rising Demand of VILT– In Conversation with our L&D Expert

1. What do you Think are the Reasons for the Sudden Popularity of VILT?

 Shalini: The most obvious one of course is the pandemic that has forced employees all over the world to indefinitely work from home. Even organizations that were fairly conservative and old school in their HR approach and who favored traditional, time-tested, and a standardized one-size-fits-all-situations approach to work, had to undergo an overnight paradigm shift because managing an in-person workforce was very different from suddenly having to manage a virtual workforce. Many started rethinking their operations, business, management, and leadership practices and styles.

Most employees (except the very extroverted ones who get energized by other people and for whom working from home equals time served in solitary confinement 😊) initially seemed more enthusiastic about working remotely, despite having to put in longer hours and the lines between life and work blurring like never before. But I think many employers and organizations weren’t as comfortable with this switch. However, given that there was no other option but to hit the ground running, they needed to quickly rethink their operations and processes, and come up with ways to keep both the productivity and morale of their remote workforce high. Of course, most hoped this was a temporary phase and bravely met the challenge of this annoying disruption head-on.

Once the initial optimism of ‘COVID-19 is going away soon’ faded, organizations had to put long term solutions in place – in every area of their business operations, including training. So, with ‘virtual’ becoming the new normal, they were forced to move their most immediate and critical ILTs (instructor-led training) to the virtual mode because there was no other option. Waiting to develop these into eLearning would mean delays they couldn’t afford – so virtual meetings soon started expanding into virtual knowledge sharing sessions. Virtual training was just a natural progression along this continuum of moving all business activities and functions online. Again, with WFH changing the organization’s culture and communication landscape, and with virtual meetings becoming the norm, even the most tech-challenged employee soon learned how to attend/host virtual meetings using virtual software, and I believe this more than anything else helped employees become more open to the prospect of virtual training.

A word about the backdrop – with technology turning the world into a global village, eLearning has been seeing a steady increase in adoption over a long time now. But although many training managers and L&D professionals have been talking for a long time about the possibility of moving ALL their training online – whether to eLearning or VILT – the pandemic has forced their hand, so to speak. And once organizations saw well-developed VILTs in action, and what they could do with this delivery model, it became increasingly popular, not just for reasons of safety, but for reasons of utility, convenience, cost-saving, effectiveness, and efficiency as well.

2. Do you think VILT is Fully Equivalent to its Counterpart – the Conventional Classroom?

Shalini: Well, yes and no. It can be as effective as or sometimes even more so than ILT, if done right. Here’s a quick comparison of the differences.

Parameter/aspectILTVILT
Training contentActivities are its life and soul.A logistical nightmare if not managed well.
Resource (people)Typically led by 1 instructorNeeds 2 people to facilitate a session – Instructor (for actual training) and Host (to facilitate and handle the technology aspect)
Training materialsFairly straightforwardEvery activity needs detailed directions on how it can be handled virtually. More effort in the slide deck and facilitator guides, at least when dealing with audiences that are moving to VILT for the first time.
Train the trainerFairly simple. Focus on content and less on delivery or style.A TTT session is required to train facilitators on delivery using the virtual medium, especially for those new to it.
ActivitiesVery simple to come up with, more room for spontaneitySome ILT activities cannot be translated to virtual mode, hence need equivalent substitutes, so that learner outcomes are not diluted.

3. What do you Think are the Biggest Strengths of VILT in the Current Situation?

Shalini: Safety during the pandemic, of course, is its biggest strength. Other strengths are ‘Time’ and ‘Cost’ efficiencies, an expanded instructor base (increased access to instructors who previously may not have been willing to travel to train in certain areas, now able to train through VILT). When handled well, VILTs can be leveraged as powerfully as ILTs. 

4. Which Type of Training/Content do you Think is Ideal for VILT?

Shalini: Although almost anything can be handled through a VILT, I’d say it is ideal for behavioral training (soft skills, leadership, team building, etc) or anything that requires people to work together to build a skill or change an attitude. What it is not ideal for are technical training or simulations – these are best handled through eLearning. Although from my experience, hands-on software workshops, for instance, building courses using Authoring tools can be handled equally well through both VILT and ILT. 

5. How do you Ensure Engagement in VILT?

Shalini: Polls are the quickest way to foster learner engagement. And every virtual meeting software has a few core features – chat, slide or whiteboard annotations, and breakout rooms. Use these well. Unmute participants and have them share at appropriate intervals. And as with ILTs, use the Q&A well. 

6. Can you Tell us About the Infrastructural Readiness Needed to Begin with VILT?

Shalini: Every employee who suddenly had to work from home during the early days of the pandemic soon discovered that they didn’t need much, except a decent internet connection, a quiet place to work, and for those who needed it, VPN to access their company’s network. So, with VILT, you don’t need anything new except what you most likely already have by now – a good internet connection and a quiet place to work. 

7. What are Some of the Common Doubts (or apprehensions) that Organizations have About VILT?

Shalini:

  • Lack of exposure to the virtual training format
  • Isolation
  • Low bandwidth
  • Distractions, less engagement, and involvement
  • More effort to train both instructors and participants to be comfortable with virtual training software
  • Employees multitasking during training

8. Are there Aspects of VILT that can be Outsourced to a Vendor/Partner?

Shalini: Of course! Just as organizations gave classroom content to eLearning vendors for developing instructionally sound eLearning solutions, now organizations, especially those who can’t afford to lose any time in deploying training that has become even more relevant in the current scenario, can give their source content to vendors for conversion into VILT. Of course, the vendor of choice has to have the expertise and experience in VILT to handle this requirement. Otherwise, you will end up with VILTs that are nothing more than webinars.

9. Will VILT Continue to Rule the Roost after the Pandemic Gets Over?

Shalini: It’s anyone’s guess when the pandemic will be deemed to be over, so we have an indefinitely remote workforce to train. I have a feeling that having tasted this format and found it to be good, many organizations are very likely to retain this delivery mode, even after the ILT or classroom option becomes safely available. Because in a sense, VILTs are the ideal middle ground solution – especially for training with short shelf life or for immediate requirement. And in a way, the pandemic has forced many organizations to rethink their existing programs and “fire” anything that has not proven to be effective, so there may be a demand for new training deployed primarily through VILT, and not just as conversion projects from ILTs. That said, I think organizations would still like to develop the bulk of their training in the asynchronous, self-learning format as it is most cost-effective and available 24×7, but a VILT is a good middle ground solution, as I mentioned earlier, even though it is synchronous.

10. Do you have Any Tips/best practices for Organizations that are Looking to Migrate from the Classroom to VILT?

Shalini: The usual best practices for sound instructional design apart, work very consciously to build in more interactivity to overcome the limitations of the medium (such as the absence of non-verbal cues) and help employees feel like they are experiencing a live ILT session to the extent possible. Look for a vendor with a background in eLearning, ILT, and VILT. This way, you can not only leverage blended solutions, but also convert ILT to VILT without letting anything important slip through the cracks. Plan for engagement before the VILT (maybe by setting up specific channels in Microsoft Teams) and after (to make learning truly an ongoing journey).

Wrapping It Up!

So, how did you find this brief interview on VILT? Did Shalini’s answers bring some much-needed clarity on this subject? VILT has been on the rise and a well-planned, executed, and implemented virtual classroom program is going to benefit both your learners and organizations’ ROI.

If you want to explore the art and science of virtual instructor-led training, register for our webinar.

Virtual Training – How to Replicate the Real Classroom [Live Webinar]
VILT Demystified – In Conversation with our In-house Expert
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