More than a year of virtual classes experience - The good parts
I think you all know what happened back in 2020 when we all ended up in a different world. I wrote this in the past, and it is still true. I'm very grateful that I can still make my living these days. But that doesn't mean that it is easy. Some customers still don't value live virtual classes. I understand some of their reasons. Here is what I experienced in the last one and a half years that makes live virtual classes valuable even after going back to our old life.
One class around the globe (sort of)
Live virtual classes work across time zones. Of course, participants need to be willing to join a class outside of their regular time zone. This is interesting for in-house classes. Companies get the opportunity to have a single class for a distributed team.
No travel costs and time
This brings us to the next benefit, the financial aspect. I charge the same money for my live virtual classes then I do for in-person classes. You don't save money there. The reason is that the knowledge I'm sharing does not depend on the format. However, a company or you save the travel costs. Neither you nor I have to travel, stay in a hotel, or pay for a classroom. This is where you can save.
Not everybody is always eager to travel. Unpleasant hotel rooms, beds, transportation, and maybe even visa restrictions make traveling an unpleasant part of a class for some people. This all is gone with live virtual classes.
Always available classroom
The classroom is the next item. In my experience, getting a decent classroom isn't easy. For in-house classes, it is the question of whether to go off-site or stay on-site. The first option means an often welcomed change for the participants. But it may involve travel costs, and the classroom itself will cost as well as the catering. Hosting the class on-site opens the space for unexpected trouble. I once had a three-day class that was booked at least six months ahead. We had an all-right classroom on day one, but top-level management decided to meet and acquire our classroom on day two. Between us, I would not have chosen that room as part of management. However, there we were without a classroom. For a well ahead book class, at a large German company which at that day did only have a single room available as an alternative. Too small, not enough desks, ... Some participants ended up using bistro tables. What shall I say? Well, not an issue with live virtual classes.
While I prefer that participants are totally focused on the class and me during class time, I accept that this is not possible all the time. With live virtual classes, participants are more free. They also don't distract the other participants if they disable their video and audio, allowing them to get important medicine or take a COVID test. Simply listening via audio only.
While getting a decent classroom was always a challenge, getting a setup where attendees could solve the exercises in groups was never possible, even with a large enough room. The reasons are that once two groups are in the same room, the chances are good that one group feels disturbed by the voices of the other group. Then there is the time factor. Having ten people to group in pairs of two takes time. Starting to randomize groups leads to confusion and takes even more time. The other thing less related to the classroom was that not all employees had laptops in the past, possibly due to several company restrictions. That constraint makes pairing even more difficult.
All that is no issue anymore, at least with zoom. There I use breakout rooms. This feature allows me to group people, set a default time for the breakout room, and automatically move everybody in their assigned room. That way, each group has its own space. Computers are a must, so that's no longer an issue. The easiness of the setup plus the time control is what I find highly valuable. According to feedback from my past attendees, they feel the same way.
Something that I often hear, as an argument for in-person classes, is the level of distraction. Potential clients tell me that they fear that the attendees get more distracted in a virtual class. What should I say?
Let me tell you a story about an in-person class that took three days. One attendee was absolutely eager to learn and take this class. His eagerness was so huge that he switched off everything on his laptop as well as two cell phones (one private and his business phone). On day two, in the middle of the day and the class, a collogue received a phone call with instructions to patch the caller through to the person who switched off everything. According to the caller, it was tremendously important. According to the attendee, it could easily have waited until the end of the class.
The lesson learned? If you care about the people you're sending into a class, it is up to you to ensure that they get the time they need. Only very rarely things are that important.
Visually impaired or deaf people
Over time I've met people who were visually impaired or deaf. Once I was wearing a microphone for one attendee to feed my voice directly into her hearing aid. Some other time, I failed to get a larger projector screen for one visually impaired attendee. Very sad. These are just two stories. There are more. What all of them had in common was their equipment. Their computer was set up for them. Volume was loud enough, or the screen was huge enough to be able to read it even with very bad sight. These people can use their very own perfectly fitting setup in a live virtual class, enabling them to enjoy the class the same way as everybody else.
Mildly sick people can attend
Especially true for in-house classes, if a participant gets sick when the class happens, that usually means that this participant misses the class. That at least can be different for live virtual classes. I had various participants who were sick during live virtual classes. But they could rest while listening and viewing the class. I can only guess, but I assume they did lay down, maybe fall asleep from time to time. But in the end, they still could tune in without the risk of infecting their colleagues. One of them had COVID.
Pro's of live virtual classes:
- The same class for distributed teams.
- No travel time and costs.
- The most beautiful classroom you can envision (your room or a great room in your company).
- Exercises in teams.
- Even when feeling bad or with an appointment in the middle of the day, you can tune in via audio (nothing you should do all the time, of course).
- Less barriers.
Con's of live virtual classes:
- Aside from the exercises, it is hard to meet new people.
- You're still stuck in your home or company room. Sometimes a change can be nice.
So, which great experiences did you have?