“One for all, and all for one!” This is something of a motto among new virtual class tools that combine collaboration with community. Are they as effective as on-site training, where participants can engage in discussions with one another and share information? How are ties created between their students? Are these tools truly social?
A community-based virtual class
First, virtual classes naturally allow learners to take distance training in real time, regardless of their physical location. This is a true distance training classroom for planning and creating instantaneous connections between different training actors. In just a few seconds, users are immersed in training that is as lively as in a face-to-face setting, with the same teaching tools at hand: a whiteboard, a visual pointer, screen-sharing, document-sharing, instant messaging and more. The trainer teaches the class and can, at any time, engage directly with all of the participants.
Our current practices are firmly oriented toward social networks and information-sharing. In other words, the virtual classes of today also make for a fantastic communication tool, including for exchanges between learners. This creates solidarity within the community, tightening the ties between learners by allowing them to share their questions, their expertise, their remarks, and more. Knowledge here is not individual, but rather collective. This is true peer-to-peer training, which is what makes virtual classes a real social learning tool (see our definition of social learning).
Learners as protagonists in their own training
During a virtual class, the learners are not alone: they are accompanied by the trainer, speaking directly to them and not from a pre-recorded session, but also by their classmates, with whom they can exchange during the training, using different tools like instant messaging and web cameras. This marks a profound change to training methods, in which interactivity and exchanges have become the new buzz words. A virtual class is not unilateral training, with the learners passively receiving information.
Today, learners can take an active role in their training, thanks to digital technologies: exchanges and interactivity are at the heart of existing systems, designed to let individuals share their knowledge. Social learning is proof of this, and its popularity is only growing.
And on the trainer side?
It is easy and intuitive to get a handle on this type of system: trainers are usually quick to pick up on the art of teaching a virtual class, because the environment is so similar to that of an on-site classroom. The pillars of classroom training – seeing, hearing and discussing with one another while everyone is looking at the same visual projected on the board – are combined with a virtual class, which eliminates some of the limitations imposed by on-site training, such as travel, budgets, etc. Better yet, after the training, the trainer can view the exchanges between students, in order to identify any points with which the learners are struggling and respond to them in the community space. It is a true social learning tool for one and all.