In the virtual classroom, how many is too many?
Imagine you are about to teach a class on conducting effective performance reviews to new hire supervisors. You’ve taught this class at least a dozen times before with great results. Feedback in the classroom largely focuses on the collaborative nature of the activities and the opportunity to be critiqued.
Normally you accept a maximum of 16 learners in the face-to-face program. You know that you can manage the learning, and monitor each individual learner’s progress, with that class size.
Now imagine your classroom has been redesigned. The new room legally allows up to 100 people. Since the room can hold so many more people, it makes sense to allow up to 100 people to enroll in this class. Right?
Of course not. We know instinctively that the size of the room and the number of chairs available does not dictate how many people we can effectively teach. It would be very difficult to make a class with 100 learners collaborative in nature. Role-plays would be noisy. And it just wouldn’t be possible for one facilitator to observe and provide feedback to that many learners.
Teaching 100 people at the same time would, most probably, not be a training class at all. It would be a lecture. We can explain to our learners the steps involved with conducting performance appraisals. We can provide materials to support the process. But, without the addition of many more facilitators and smaller rooms in which people could practice, we would not be able to effectively assess whether or not learners were mastering the skills. Without assessment, we are effectively an informational session; we can’t call this training.
Why then, when we move to the virtual classroom, do organizations believe we can teach two or three or sometimes even five times the number of learners at the same time? They believe that because the virtual classroom technology allows that many learners, that means we can teach that many learners.
This doesn’t pass the common sense test.
If we want the results of our virtual training programs to meet the same standards that we expect in our face-to-face programs, we need to ensure that we can assess that each learner is achieving the desired level of mastery. Since this assessment may be more difficult in the virtual classroom than in a face-to-face environment, we actually may want to decrease class size as compared to traditional delivery.
For a facilitator to be fully aware of each individual learner, the facilitator needs to be able to observe and provide feedback. Not just to one person but to every learner in the session. This is just not possible with class sizes of 30 or more.
If we look at our original 16 learners in the performance appraisal program, you may want to reduce the class maximum to 12 or 14 while you’re working the kinks out in the virtual version of the same class. You won't be sure if the interactions and activities are going to work in the same way until you give it a test run or two. Remember, in the virtual classroom we don’t have the benefit of eye contact and body language to help assure us that our learners are where we need them to be.
It comes down to this: what results do you want from your virtual sessions? If your goal is to deliver information but not necessarily enable learners to act on that information, then enroll as many people as you like. They can watch a recording when they need to get some background information, and then move on.
But, if you want your learners to be able to apply what they’ve learned in a meaningful way and be able to evaluate that learning, a large class size is not the way to go. If you wouldn’t do it in the “real classroom," you shouldn’t do it in the virtual classroom either.
Interested in learning more about facilitating in the virtual classroom? Our Virtual Classroom Facilitation Mastery Series course can help. To read all about the course and how you can earn your Virtual Classroom Facilitator Badge, just click on the graphic below.