In January 2019, I set out to discover the latest trends in virtual training and find out what had changed since 2017, when I conducted a similar survey. I surveyed more than 230 global training professionals to ask about their experience with virtual classrooms.

My three-fold goal was to discover best practices, analyze what’s going on in most organizations, and share the results. In addition to collecting this survey data, I also reviewed and curated relevant data from other sources. Here are a few key highlights from the research findings, along with some tips for applying these lessons learned.

Most organizations use virtual training

Virtual training—live, online, facilitator-led classes—isn't new. When I started designing and facilitating virtual classes in the early 2000s, it was innovative, but now it's common. Most organizations surveyed—93 % to be exact—are using live online learning.

The move to virtual training stems from its many benefits. According to ATD’s research, 87% of organizations use virtual classes to reach geographically dispersed workers, while 81% use it to save on travel costs. In my own experience working with organizations, most are using virtual classes to supplement their existing training offerings.

Trends and challenges in virtual training

The survey identified some trends—and challenges—in presenting virtual training.

A clear trend is emerging: shorter virtual classes. In 2012, The eLearning Guild reported that the most common virtual class length was 60 to 90 minutes. Today, the most common class length is 60 minutes, and 15% of my survey respondents said their virtual classes are 45 minutes or less. These shorter instructor-led events are often combined into a series, with at least 40%t of virtual classes reported to be part of a blended curriculum.

Next, in the current era of streaming video, it was a surprise to see that only 23% of virtual trainers use webcams while facilitating. A higher percentage—42%—turn their cameras on at the beginning of a session and then quickly turn them off. Many reasons were cited; not surprisingly, lack of internet bandwidth topped the list.

Lack of internet bandwidth, along with audio and other technology challenges, was listed as a top challenge of virtual training. I specifically asked, “What's your biggest virtual training challenge? (i.e., your biggest obstacle/what gets in the way of your success?)” More than 30% of the responses were about technology.

Many other challenges were also mentioned, most notably unprepared participants and lack of stakeholder buy-in. One survey response summarized it best: “Participants who don’t know what’s expected of them because they haven’t read their email, haven’t taken time to test their technology in advance, and arrive unprepared.”

Platforms and devices

Another surprise in the survey results was found in the use of mobile devices. Today it seems that mobile devices are everywhere—except in the virtual classroom. Fewer than 10% of participants are connecting to the virtual classroom by mobile device.

One big reason for this low number is the lack of consistency between the desktop software and the mobile app software in popular platforms. Most mobile apps do not have the same features as the full version. For example, users might not be able to write on the whiteboard or join a breakout group if they are using a mobile device.

Speaking of virtual classroom platforms, in my 2017 survey, the most popular programs in use were (respondents could select all platforms they used):

  • Adobe Connect, at 38%
  • WebEx, at 37%
  • GoToTraining, at 35%

The 2019 survey numbers were similar, with the exception of one new player that showed marked increase: Zoom.

Almost 30% of 2019 survey respondents reported using Zoom as their virtual classroom platform.

Where is virtual training headed?

So what’s the big lesson learned from these trends? Virtual training is a viable way to reach globally dispersed learners. But achieving successful learning transfer and applied skills takes intentional effort. There’s more to it than just taking a traditional classroom program and sending out a calendar invitation to meet online. Three key components are essential:

  • Interactive design: A well-designed, live online program that collaboratively engages participants in their own learning, using the virtual classroom tools
  • Engaging facilitators: A skilled facilitator who is comfortable with technology and can build rapport with remote audiences
  • Prepared participants: Participants who see value and are willing to invest time and attention in their learning

To get a deeper understanding of the state of virtual training and future trends, dig into my survey results, including an all-new 2019 virtual training infographic.

Learn more at Learning Solutions 2019 Conference and Expo!

Join Cindy Huggett at Learning Solutions 2019 Conference and Expo, March 26 – 28, in Orlando, Florida. Huggett will present “Digital Literacy Skills for Virtual Trainers, Presenters, and Facilitators” and “Creating Engaging Virtual Training Using Zoom,” both on March 27.