Training: A Primer For Hosting Live, Online (Virtual) Classes
by Kevin Siegel
I received a call from a friend of mine who is the head of human resources at a large company. While the company is typically ahead of the curve when it comes to technology, she was being tasked to spearhead a corporate initiative that was outside of her field of expertise. Specifically, she was being told to move all of the company's traditional in-person training classes online.
It seems that corporate was looking to find ways to trim expenses and one sure-fire way to do that was through a reduction of travel expenses. My friend told me that they had 40,000 employees worldwide. When there was a need for a training class (and there were usually multiple classes each month), employees were flown into the corporate offices in New York. Between airfare, hotel, and other travel expenses, the costs were astronomical. In addition, the corporate training facility could only handle a set number of attendees making it impossible to host large groups.
The scenario above is the perfect combination of circumstances that makes virtual training rooms ideal: employees who are spread across the country (or the world), limited travel budgets, and inadequate meeting spaces/training rooms. Since my friend knew that I had been developing and teaching online classes for years, she asked for my guidance when it came to selecting the virtual training space for her company. What follows is the information that I shared with her.
What Do You Need to Host an Online Meeting/Training Event?
These days, the technology you need to begin hosting virtual sessions is minimal... no fooling. All that you need is:
Headset or Telephone
A Meeting Space Vendor
You can use any modern computer (laptop or desktop). It doesn't matter if you're a PC user or a Macintosh die-hard, both platforms can be used to host virtual spaces. The power and speed of your computer isn't critical. In fact, when my main computer died just before a scheduled online class, and my backup computer decided to die as well, I hosted the class on my young daughters Dora the Explorer laptop. Her laptop was tiny, cheap, underpowered, and very, very, pink. (The class went great by the way... my students never suspected a thing.)
Any computer purchased in the past 5-10 years will be able to access the internet out of the box. While you can access the Internet wirelessly, I'd encourage to host your online sessions via a hard-wired connection. While wireless connections to the Internet perform reasonably well, nothing beats a hard-wired connection to your corporate routers like Ethernet cables (they're almost always faster and more reliable).
Headset or Telephone?
Some online training rooms support Voice Over Internet Protocol (VOiP), some vendors support telephones (either toll-calls or toll-free), and some rooms support both VOiP and telephones. Should you elect to use VOiP, you'll need a headset plugged into your computer. You can find a computer headset at Best Buy or any office supply store. I'm often asked to recommend a quality headset. Personally, I don't think you can go wrong with any kind of headset manufactured by Senneheiser (their headsets are a bit more expensive than others, but the audio quality is incredible).
While you will likely sound awesome when you are using VOiP, keep in mind that you're basically using the Internet to transmit your voice. If your computer is low on resources, or your Internet connection isn't the best, VOiP won't be the best option. Your voice could sound choppy and your students might miss what you're saying.
When I connect to my online classes, I use a traditional telephone with a headset that I purchased at Office Depot (it cost around $50). My meeting space does not offer a toll-free number for me or my students without an extra monthly charge (that can get very, very expensive). Instead, I access the training room by dialing a long-distance number provided once I open my training room. Because my office pays for unlimited long distance (we use AT&T and the option is only $50 per month), I don't worry about long-distance fees. My classes typically last all day so $50 per month for unlimited long distance calls is a bargain.
So you've got your computer, a great headset, and access to the Internet. Great! You're just missing the final and most important part of the puzzle... the vendor that will allow you to run your online sessions.
There are many companies that allow you to host online meetings. While some solutions are free (Skype for example), vendors will typically charge you anywhere from $50 per month to several hundred dollars each month, depending on the options you need. In my opinion, here are the top vendors offering online training spaces: WebEx (owned by Cisco), GoToTraining (owned by Citrix), and Connect (owned by Adobe System). I'm not saying that there isn't a perfectly good solution out there beyond the three I've mentioned. However, I've used several different vendors and technology over the years. In my experience, the three vendors mentioned here performed the best.
All three of my top vendors provide a free 30-day trial so I encourage you to test-drive each of their products. When the time comes to set up a room using any of the tools, you'll find it a painless process since there's little to install. With GoToTraining, for instance, I set up an account, downloaded a small application, and was using my first training space in literally 10 minutes. The only issue you might run across when setting up your training space is being blocked by your corporate Firewall. In that instance, you'll need to coordinate your efforts with your IT department so they'll grant you unfettered access to the vendor's site and grant you the necessary installation privileges.
Once you've got your hardware and vendor sorted out, your final concern is what your learner will need to access your virtual room. Like everything else about the virtual experience, getting your learners into the room is easy. All that your learner will need to access your room is the date and time of the meeting, a computer with Internet access, a headset or telephone (just like you), and the address of the training room. (The address is a link you'll create at the time that you set up your virtual room. You'll be able to copy/paste the address and send it to your students via email.)
Of course, there's more to hosting online meetings or classes than the technology. In reality, there's an art form to leading an online class (it's not easy leading a class to a group that you cannot see). If you'd like to learn how to teach online classes effectively, check out my online (of course) Train the Online Trainer class.