The Vocabulary of Virtual Training
Virtual Training – Cindy Huggett, CPLP
In virtual training, vocabulary can be the source of many challenges
In a recent conversation with my 8-year-old son, I asked him to pick up the telephone. He immediately responded, “Mom, it’s called a ‘phone.’ ” He’s not wrong, but neither was I. This exchange got me thinking about our ever-evolving language, and more specifically, the vocabulary we use to describe virtual training.
As everyone knows, definitions of words can morph over time. And words can have completely different meanings depending on context, situation or someone’s interpretation of them. Changing vocabulary may not seem like a big deal, but when it comes to virtual training, it actually can be the source of many challenges.
For example, if you advertise a virtual training class to begin at 9 a.m., what does that time mean to your participants? To some it means be there by 8:50 a.m. to sort out any audio or video issues. To others it means clicking on the virtual classroom link at 9:00 (or 9:01) a.m. And to others it means joining the event at 9:10 a.m., or whenever their previous online meeting ends.
If everyone has that same understanding of the class start time, then it may not be a problem. But for most, these mismatched expectations about “9 a.m.” simply creates frustration all around.
Let’s look at some of the most confused words related to virtual training, along with their typical definitions and my recommendations.
This generic term has so many different meanings depending upon who you ask. Some think its just an online presentation, while others assume it’s an interactive virtual training class. The biggest problem with these variations is unclear expectations over audience participation. If attendees think they are coming to passively listen to a speaker, but the presenter expects everyone to engage in chat and respond to polls, then it’s a mismatch with unfortunate outcomes.
Today, “webinar” usually refers to an online marketing event on a public calendar. There’s a catchy topic designed to generate interest, a speaker (or two) who will draw in registrations, resulting in potential sales leads. If you’re still using the term webinar to describe your interactive virtual training classes, then consider creating a new name.
This buzzword du jour has a long history of varying definitions, leading to much confusion over what it truly means. In the K-12 or university setting, hybrid refers to a learning program that combines synchronous and asynchronous components. But in the corporate world, we call that “blended learning.” I’ve also heard organizations use the word hybrid when they incorporate digital media – such as tablets – into an in-person classroom.
In today’s vernacular, hybrid classes are ones that have a mixture of in-person and online audiences. The facilitator is in-person with some participants, while other participants join remotely. This classroom setup is becoming more and more popular as people around the globe are returning to offices after the COVID-19 pandemic.
What name do you give to the subject matter expert who leads your virtual training classes? Are they a trainer? An instructor? A presenter? Something else? The truth is that each of these names illustrate different aspects of the learning facilitator role. But individually, they provide only a partial description of it.
Why does this nuance matter? Because if the goal is to have an interactive virtual class, but it’s led by an “instructor,” then participants may assume that the instructor is only there to lecture. The same is true with the name presenter, speaker and even trainer. You might think that the title doesn’t matter, but it sets the stage from the start.
If you want the audience to engage, the better term to use is “facilitator” or “virtual facilitator.” This nomenclature reinforces the idea that their role is to facilitate dialogue, invite discussion, encourage reflection and guide the learning experience.
The purpose of communication is to clearly get your point across with mutual understanding by all who hear. Having a common vocabulary when everyone in your organization talks about virtual training terms, serves a similar purpose.
Take time to clarify what someone means when they use an unfamiliar word. Create consistency in your organization by ensuring everyone is on the same page to avoid unintended challenges.
Cindy Huggett, CPLP, is a consultant whose books include Virtual Training Tools and Templates and The Virtual Training Guidebook. Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.