Karen Hyder, a certified technical trainer (CTT+) and online event producer, has been teaching people about technology since the Internet became a thing. She’s been teaching and coaching others on virtual classroom platforms since 1999. Before that, she taught people how to use computers in physical classrooms. She has produced hundreds of online sessions, including many for The eLearning Guild’s Summits and Spotlights, coaching speakers through the preparation and delivery of their material. Since the first Guild conferences, Karen has presented sessions, and she often serves as a docent supporting those who are new to the Guild, the conference, or the industry. For her career-long commitment to learners and her good work in our community, The eLearning Guild recognized Karen as a Guild Master at Learning Solutions 2017 Conference & Expo.

From her perspective as an early adopter of virtual classroom technology, Karen has seen many changes in the way people use virtual classroom and meeting platforms. She recently talked with Learning Solutions Magazine about some innovative examples and what that might mean for eLearning.

Pam Hogle (PH): How long have you been working with virtual classroom platforms and instructors?

Karen Hyder (KH): Since before the turn of the century. Seriously, 1999. Before that, I taught in physical classrooms for 11 years.

PH: What changes have you seen in the way people—both instructors and learners—use these platforms?

KH: People were more squeamish about tech. Network infrastructure, hardware, and bandwidth were unsatisfactory for most people. People can do more now with a watch than we could do with a powerful PC then. In my house, we use the term “bedputing.” Bedputing = computing in bed. You know you also compute in bed, even if only using a smartphone or tablet.

When I worked in a Microsoft authorized training center, we had big classrooms with late-model PCs and a team of technicians to set up and manage our equipment and offer hands-on troubleshooting when we needed it. We offered day-long, immersive courses, complete with free lunch and an afternoon cookie break!

Modern learners must be technically self-sufficient and environmentally prepared. We have to tell them to sit at a desk and plug into a wired Internet connection and use a headset. If they cannot install the app or can’t hear audio, there’s not much the trainer can do to help them. They flounder until they can fix it or drop off the session.

PH: You recently mentioned some innovative uses, like a shareholders meeting or a bridal shower. Can you provide some details?

KH: Like we see so often, necessity drives adoption. I think people are finding traveling a hassle and a big waste of time. If that’s going downtown or getting on a plane, people don’t like having to add travel to every activity. Working and learning at your desktop or in your Barcalounger is very doable. You know that people whose babies FaceTime with Grandma in Florida are fine with online training. Remote workers are comfortable attending virtual staff meetings, so virtual coffee breaks, happy hours, and virtual parties aren’t such a stretch.

PH: How do these work? Have you attended any of these sorts of events?

KH: We did a virtual bridal shower in May for my niece, Breanna. A few aunts and a few cousins were able to join from Minnesota, Virginia, and South Carolina. In fact, my tablet will be streaming her wedding to family and friends who cannot travel to the venue—in the middle of a field in the middle of New York state.

PH: What do you see as the implications (or opportunities) for eLearning and virtual classroom training in terms of new ways to conduct training, engage learners, and support performance?

KH: The implications have been the same all along—this can be a fantastic, dream-come-true modality for learning and communication in general, when it’s done well and people understand how to use the resources.

When participants struggle to hear and see, it just adds to their cognitive load and not only limits their ability to learn and retain, but also serves to make them feel undervalued. Virtual should never be seen as a poor man’s version of “real” training. It’s real, but too often, not very good.

We instructional designers and trainers need to strategically design for success, using and leveraging the tools and resources available in virtual classrooms, in LMSs, and on social media. We’re wise to modernize our instructional design models to engage people where they are—not where they used to be. We have to prepare learners to be responsible for their technology, for their participation, and for completing learning assignments, etc. It helps when everyone has realistic expectations of the consistency of Internet connectivity.

PH: Can you give us an example or two of what this might look like?

KH: The training I grew up with was immersive—you show up there and they give you all the stuff you need and you follow along. By the end of the day, you’ve got a pretty good handle on what you saw, but [you] might not be clear on how and when to apply. Oh well. Good luck. Next butt in seat!

In our training center, learners would come to Word Perfect or Intro to Excel with no idea what they were there to learn or why—they just followed instructions. It was up to the trainer to figure out how this was going to be relevant. We tried edutainment to keep it interesting. What the use of email and the Internet allowed was a more blended approach to our learning programs. We started to communicate with participants early to find out what they needed and were interested in learning. We frontloaded foundational asynchronous activities and engaged managers to help learners see how they would be expected to apply what they would learn. We didn’t need to granularly customize; learners could fill in the relevance and see value in what they were learning. Additionally, we were able to follow up to refresh learners’ memories and provide opportunities to ask more questions.

These days, blended programs with synchronous and asynchronous elements are standard, and many learners navigate well on their own. But many get lost in the tools with their various logins and assignments and need some hand-holding to stay motivated and find their way through the program.

I supported an event 10 years ago with a presenter who had only satellite Internet at her home office in the mountains. Each time we met to prepare, we talked about how, on the day of the session, she would be going “into town” where she would have access to a better, wired Internet connection. I was led to believe it was a spare room in a friend’s office. When her audio was terrible during her live session and her Internet connection dropped four times, she admitted she was sitting in her car outside Starbucks stealing Wi-Fi. I thought that attempting to work in a remote situation was outrageous, but now, it seems normal. I don’t think a car is a great place to learn, but my participants might need to be told why they shouldn’t do that.

PH: How else do you see virtual learning changing?

KH: I see us customizing learning more through micro-recordings and tutorials, including tweets and microblogs, and coaching and working in supported groups of highly interactive virtual teams.

Tweets are a great way to engage learners early and encourage ongoing discussion about the learning content. In my Top Tips webinars, I’ve scheduled each tip to get tweeted right about the same time I’m presenting corresponding content in the live event. I encourage participants to follow and respond on Twitter. As participants (and outsiders) interact with the tweets, they extend and expand the conversation beyond the live event.

The more comfortable we are with identifying, creating, and/or curating the information and tools our learners need now, the more effectively we can serve. As it turns out, “one size fits all” doesn’t.