Whether for professional training or more traditional education, e-learning is enjoying a real boom. School pupils and university students have had to adapt and use virtual classes in order to maintain a certain level of teaching continuity.
Because they encourage interaction between teachers and participants, virtual classes make it possible to counter a certain lack of motivation and engagement in learners forced to follow courses remotely. How to run a virtual class, what are the keys to a successful e-learning functionality and how does this type of distance-learning work? Our article will explain all!
What is a virtual class?
A virtual class means gathering together individuals geographically far apart via an online platform enabling them to follow training courses by videoconference.
A virtual class also includes tools for learners to exchange and interact with other learners and with the trainers. This video access adds a human aspect to distance-learning, which tends to motivate learners less than face-to-face teaching.
Why include virtual classes in a teaching programme?
The primary reason for including virtual classes in a teaching programme is the interaction it generates between trainers and learners and between learners. E-learning platform publishers are using this type of functionality more and more in their software programmes. In effect, virtual classes have the advantage of making courses more dynamic.
We have drawn up a list of the key benefits of this tool for trainers, facilitators and training organizations:
Greater flexibility: trainers/facilitators and trainees can follow the course wherever they are. All they need is a good Internet connection to be able to log in remotely. In addition, a virtual class can be easily adapted to learners’ schedules; they can log in during breaks in their day, while commuting or while on leave. Finally, access to a virtual class can be permanent, enabling participants to log in at any time of day.
Diversity of activities proposed: virtual classes are integrated into e-learning interfaces offering several types of activities including quizzes, mobile learning courses, practical workshops, e-learning sheets and surveys. Some e-learning interfaces even offer functionalities taken from traditional classes like the possibility of raising one’s hand, taking the floor, downloading documents necessary for the course, accessing various resources, etc.
Lower costs than a face-to-face classroom: virtual classes cut out the trainer’s travel costs as well as room-hire and meal costs. In addition, virtual classes are often integrated into e-learning applications, which limits costs in terms of equipment. Likewise, the number of participants on a given course is no longer limited by the number of seats available in a classroom.
How to prepare a virtual class?
It is not enough just to have a good microphone, a working camera and a good Internet connection to run a good virtual class (even if having high-quality equipment is also essential). Like any training course, running an e-learning class requires preparation in advance and adherence to certain rules before, during and after the course.
What actions must be taken before teaching a virtual class?
- The class must be prepared in advance, by developing a suitable scenario depending on the specific characteristics of the tool and of your group of learners.
- Test the tools: the e-learning platform on which the webinar will take place as well as the microphone or camera for the video.
- Put together a homogeneous group of trainees (with similar training and learning goals).
- Limit the number of participants in a virtual class: we think the ideal number of participants is between 1 and 10 people maximum.
- Properly prepare the documents to be downloaded by your learners and upload them to the platform so that they can be quickly and easily downloaded.
- Have your learners test the virtual class tool and also ask them to test their microphone and camera before starting the course.
- Send your learners regular messages to liven up this time before the start of the course. E-learning platforms often include discussion forums enabling you to publish this type of information.
- Make use of the time before the start of the training by creating pre-training satisfaction surveys, for example, by revising certain points of the training means of microlearning courses or by generating exchanges on the discussion forums;
- Ensure your learners are able to work in good conditions in a calm environment with as few distractions as possible (where possible).
How to start a virtual class?
- Present the training goals and how the virtual class will take place by indicating the main activities to be carried out, the time necessary to complete them and the available resources;
- Present the training programme to your trainees. Ideally, this document should be available for download by your learners;
- Inform your trainees of the rules to be respected during the virtual class: when and how to take the floor, for example, and how to use the chat room or discussion forum and what elements can be included;
- Encourage your learners to present themselves and their backgrounds, by going round each participant in turn, for example;
- Ensure good time management: a virtual class should generally last between 1 and 1.5 hours.
How to end a virtual class?
- After the virtual class, follow up the activities carried out by the learners by conducting immediate course evaluations. These questionnaires will enable you to identify any sticking points and improve the content of your virtual class, as well as target your strengths;
- Give learners permanent access to the teaching resources and content shared during the virtual class: documents for download, e-learning videos, etc. If this is not the case, you can always record your virtual class (informing your trainees in advance) and provide them with a download link enabling them to download and view the materials at will.
- Include an activity or exercise to summarize the key information or aspects of your virtual class.
How to teach a virtual class?
It is not easy to teach a virtual class as it requires using teaching skills and being versatile in order to adapt to this type of format. The aim is to ensure maximum interaction with learners to keep them motivated and avoid them losing interest in your training.
- Prioritize visual content including images and videos in order to spark your learners’ interest. Try to vary the format.
- Put yourself in the learner’s shoes. The learner must be at the heart of the teaching programme you have created. Ask yourself, therefore, what the learner’s motivations and expectations are (in terms of content, for example, as well as their goals) and find out any fears they may have, so that you can reassure them, if necessary.
- Be well-prepared and practise several times beforehand. As the trainer or facilitator of a virtual class, you must prepare what you are going to say to ensure it is adapted to your audience. Feel free to practise in front of a pretend audience or for your close family and friends, in order to test the impact of what you have to say.
- Prioritize exchanges with learners. Make sure you allow time for discussions as well as for presenting the theory. A virtual class must not turn into a long monologue for you to display your knowledge, but rather a constant interaction with your trainees. To this end, we recommend that you:
- Regularly ask the learners questions.
- Allocate time for each trainee to speak.
- Give your learners praise and encouragement.
- Vary the activities proposed: e-learning platforms offer a wide range of activities that you can include in your virtual class. The most important thing is to create a group dynamic and to stimulate your learners. To do this, feel free to vary the format by mixing videos, visuals (or computer graphics) and text documents for download. You can also include surveys, online questionnaires and games to liven up the course and make it more fun.
- Include both individual and group work (by enabling the participants to solve problems via a discussion forum or by integrating mind mapping tools, for example) and set aside time in your training programme for learners’ presentations.
- Don’t interrupt your learners: kindness and politeness are essential for teaching a virtual class. Your learners must feel they can communicate freely and share their point of view.
Where properly integrated into an e-learning course and as long as it gives rise to real interaction and exchanges between learners, a virtual class is a powerful and effective tool for transferring and sharing knowledge and skills. As Winston Churchill said, ‘A pessimist sees the difficulty in every opportunity; an optimist sees the opportunity in every difficulty.’ Creating an e-learning training course and facilitating a virtual class constitute challenges for all training organizations, teachers and freelance trainers. Through practice, though, and by training yourself in techniques for running virtual classes, you will be able to offer your learners a new format combining the advantages of face-to-face training and the benefits of an e-learning course.