Several months ago a colleague made the following statement:
"The label 'Economic Darwinism' definitely applies to businesses that are laggards with regard to adopting the virtual classroom instead of keeping their employees ahead of the pack.”
I asked her to define what she meant by 'Economic Darwinism.' Her response:
"The idea is the process of selection in an economic context in that the "strong (businesses) survive" when economic conditions become very challenging. However, 'strong' doesn't always mean businesses that are the best in their field of expertise are those that survive. It could mean businesses that are stronger in their marketing efforts survive over competitors that are actually better in their area(s) of expertise."
I've kept this comment on hand, and have come back to it time and time again. If Darwinism is "survival of the fittest" with respect to human development, then Economic Darwinism can be defined as "survival of the fittest" with respect to business health and economic viability.
So, is she right? Are organizations that are slow to adopt the virtual classroom putting themselves at an economic disadvantage?
Five years ago I would have said that organizations that were not early adopters were behaving intelligently. Letting the larger organizations with deeper pockets manage the experimentation gave more risk averse organizations several advantages, including:
- Allowing training models and best practices to be developed by SOMEONE ELSE, minimizing time to market, start-up cost, and overall risk.
- Ensuring that the virtual classroom was a viable learning technology, and not a fad that came out of the 'dot com' era.
- Taking advantage of the lower costs and more stable environments that come with more mature software solutions.
But that was so five years ago. The waiting period is over and the time to implement was yesterday. You may not realize it, but live virtual learning has been around since the mid 1990's. The technology isn’t new anymore, and if you are still waiting for the right time, then you may have waited too long.
I knew the virtual classroom had moved out of the “Early Adopter” stage and into the "Early Majority” stage several years ago when it was clear we were in a recession for the long-haul. (For more information on the Innovation Adoption Lifecyle, see this Wikipedia entry.) As a small business owner specializing in a niche educational technology space, I started losing sleep and wondering what my next career move would be. But I needn't have worried. It was during this time that the utilization of the virtual classroom exploded.
I attribute this to several factors:
- Organizations had already invested in the infrastructure needed to support virtual classrooms (bandwidth, software licenses, and servers) but had not been utilizing these assets.
- In order to survive what promised to be a long-term economic downturn, organizations knew they needed to find new ways to be competitive. Investing in training (without the overhead of travel, etc.) started to be seen as a way to gain a competitive edge.
- In order to reach new markets on the other side of the country or the other side of the world, organizations needed to find relatively inexpensive ways to expand their reach.
During this time I heard many variations on the theme of, "We always meant to use the virtual classroom, but the recession forced us to make the jump. And when the economy comes back, we'll still be using it."
If you aren’t already invested in the virtual classroom, you’ve got some catching up to do. If you ARE already invested, don’t think your work is over. You must continue to evolve.
The next stage of virtual classrooms should include:
- Blended learning - virtual classroom designs need to be blended with other learning technologies, including the traditional classroom, in order to create effective learning environments.
- We need to move out of 'webinar' mode, where one person speaks for 50 minutes and then says, "Any questions?" and into true training and education.
- Facilitators and participants need become more fully engaged and invested in the process.
- Training delivered through the virtual classroom has to be viewed as 'real learning', not a poor substitute for more traditional methods.
How do we get to the next stage? Who will be successful? The organizations that realize that the change is inevitable, and plan for it will continue to thrive.
Are you interested in learning more about blended learning and the virtual classroom? Check out our Blended Learning Design workshop and discover how you can earn your Blended Learning Design Badge by clicking on the graphic below.