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Posted by on Nov 17, 2020

Learning is Social: The Power of Virtual Training to Connect Learners

Learning is Social: The Power of Virtual Training to Connect Learners

Portrait of a cute woman with headset and laptop at home office

In 2014, I wrote a blog entitled, Is ILT Dying? In it, I suggested that we were “on the brink of something exhilarating: the reincarnation of instructor-led training as virtual instructor-led training (VILT).” Reflecting on where the world was six years ago, we’ve gone from lauding the convenience and cost-saving benefits of VILT’s resurgence to the literal life-saving necessity of VILT today.

Nobody needs to be reminded that we are now operating from a radically different premise when it comes to virtual training. That said, professional development and career credentialing don’t stop (in most sectors) just because our world has been thrown into crisis. So, how can we design learning experiences that truly support learners’ current realities?

Designers Dig Deep

Before COVID-19 hit, learning outcomes tended to drive the method of delivery. An experiential workshop in which participants collaborated closely with a team might have been seen as better suited for the face-to-face classroom. Now, designers must wrestle with a kind of cognitive dissonance that the pandemic has caused. Since the VILT platform is now a given, instructional designers have had to double down, maximizing creativity and engagement principles almost as a way to “make up for” what is commonly seen as the pitfalls of online training: lack of learner engagement and distraction. We’ve had to dig deeper than ever before to ensure a more holistic training experience, one that engages learners on every level and leverages technology’s ability to bring humans together.

VILT is Not Just for Convenience Anymore

It cannot be denied that technology is bringing humans together today for global training in a way never before anticipated. While in the past, VILT might have been viewed as a convenient, albeit inferior (at least when traditionally compared to the ILT experience), means of checking the compliance box, now VILT is emerging as a fundamental, essential mode of training delivery.

An unexpected benefit of VILT in today’s lock-down environment is that it brings people together. I don’t think I’m alone in my belief that this what we all crave in a world where many of us are working solo at home and may feel legitimately feel deprived of human connection.

Training has always been about human interaction. According to our post-event participant evaluations of ILT, collaboration, and peer-to-peer learning are often seen as the most rewarding aspects of a learning experience.

Leveraging the Social Elements of Learning

But the thing is, regardless of the training platform, learning is inherently a social practice. Psychologist Albert Bandura developed social cognitive theory, which looks at how social interactions shape learning experiences. In essence, humans learn from observing the behaviors of others.

VILT and its attendant technologies can support the social needs of learners. Designers need to design training with technology features that enable participants to interact and share knowledge in a meaningful way. Class discussions — or better yet, small breakout sessions — should be incorporated into training to enable participants to dig deep into problems and think critically about solutions. We learn best from each other.

So, here we are in a world that once valued classroom instruction as the platform that best enabled social learning, leaving VILT in the back seat. We now have a choice. We can see VILT as a short-term solution to delivering training that we’ll reluctantly rely on until the pandemic passes. Or, we can see VILT as deliberate educational technology with the power to bring diverse and geographically dispersed communities of inherently social learners together. Either way, our goal as instructional designers will always be for people to leave training feeling better armed to tackle their biggest challenges at work, and maybe, just maybe, they will also feel more connected and a little less alone.


Dawn Reynolds is Senior Instructional Designer at Management Concepts. In this role, she develops custom training solutions in multiple modalities, specializing in creative video animation and game-based learning. Dawn holds a bachelor of arts degree in American studies from Brandeis University, an e-learning graduate certificate in learning technologies, and a master’s degree in instructional design and technology from George Mason University, and a Ph.D. in American studies from the University of Maryland College Park.

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