The Future of Training and Education through Virtualization

September 12, 2014  |  Online Education | E-Learning  |  Share

The effect of Internet tools and virtualization on classical training and education methods is hard to understate. This goes beyond simple adaptation, such as recorded lectures. Virtualization will and has disrupted the traditional education field, to the point where many major institutions are buying into virtualization wholesale.

The first effect of virtualization has been a simple translation of traditional teaching tools into virtual ones. For example, a class lecture or training seminar can be recorded and the recording placed on the Internet for viewing. This idea has grown more complex with the idea of the webinar- a virtual seminar broadcast live over the Internet, while online viewers constitute a new virtual audience. The webinar format is suitable both for corporate training and for education; unlike recorded lectures, the webinar permits the online viewers to be part of the live audience, opening up new possibilities for virtual audience participation. This allows viewers from all over the globe to reap the benefits of attending a conference or lecture without any of the associated travel costs or inconvenience. Time zones remain a limiting factor, although this can be overcame in training scenarios with small, repeated webinars at different times, for example. The webinar format is a step beyond simple distance learning- it allows for the live participation that has always been the hallmark of traditional classroom learning.

The disruptive power of virtualization also extends to the training process itself. Numerous outlets, such as Code Academy and Khan Academy, have free or low-cost training and lectures available in virtual form. While Khan Academy sticks close to the recorded lecture format, businesses like Code Academy use typed instructions and a virtual code environment to allow users to learn a programming language, test what they have learned, and communicate with others for collaboration, all through a virtual platform. This “virtual classroom” gives the participants all the benefits of the traditional classroom model at a lower cost and with a few added benefits. For example, a virtual classroom does not need to meet in a physical school- anyone with Internet access can learn. This applies to corporate training as well- there is no need to juggle schedules, trying to get meeting times that work for a sufficient number of people. This makes scheduling, logistics, and collaboration far easier while reducing costs. The net effect is that learning need not be tied to a physical location with a set time anymore, and users can interact with each other and the teacher virtually, freeing them from the difficulties of in-person interaction.

The power of virtualization is making profound changes in the educational landscape. For example, several major universities, including Harvard, are now offering many of their lectures and classes in virtual form for free. Some schools are even offering special certificates for users who complete virtual classes. This opens up elite education to a huge number of people who would not otherwise have access due to financial and logistical limits, and makes taking classes at the learner’s own pace a true reality. Furthermore, the popularity of free or low-cost virtual tutorials, whether they are from universities or private groups, means that acquiring training for software and other business tools is much easier. It is now possible to use such virtual tutorials to train staff in commonly-used software, saving on training costs without compromising on quality. When paired with the possibility of online assessments and communication with the instructor, the student-learner relationship has reached a new level of interconnectedness despite distance.

The technology driving these sea changes is surprisingly simple in concept. Streaming software and webcams allow any event to become a live-streamed webinar, which can be publicly viewable or restricted to a select audience. Similarly, a recorded lecture needs only a camera and an outlet, such as Youtube. These combinations of hardware and software allow unprecedented access to learning at previously unthinkable costs- often, free. A laptop with a camera and perhaps a microphone or two can turn a training session for one room into training for anyone.

With the way this area has evolved rapidly over the past decade, it is clear that virtual training and education will continue to grow into a significant force in the business world. The future might hold entirely new prospects, such as decentralized education, where all learning is done in discrete, virtual tutorials and seminars rather than in schools and classes. The increased access to learning might lead to a far more educated workforce than previously existed, one with a comfortable familiarity with virtual tools and which is thus well-prepared to take on the challenges of the Internet age. At any rate, the reduced cost and increased availability are already making it possible for educators and trainers to reach a larger audience than ever before.

The opportunities for trainers, educators, and learners alike are exciting. The global investment in education is close to $4.0 trillion or 5.6% of global GDP. The U.S. alone spends $1.3 trillion a year. The ability to reach new audiences and engage them with a variety of tools is an unprecedented workforce force multiplier. Leading a corporate seminar is now a way to reach thousands of people across the globe simultaneously.

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