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In this third of a series of blogs about the impact of COVID-19 on education services organizations, we’ll take a look at how customer training is pivoting to virtual instructor-led training, in the absence of face-to-face training options. Data for this blog is derived from the recently conducted TSIA Rapid Research Response poll, The Impact of COVID-19 on Virtual Instructor-led Training.

I don’t think it comes as a surprise to anyone that in the midst of the pandemic, and social distancing decrees, that virtual instructor-led training has increased from January to April of this year compared to the same time period a year ago. The graph below shows that 80% of education organizations have seen an increase in virtual instructor-led training, with 33% experiencing a 25%, or greater, increase.

Comparing the number of students trained via VILT year-to-date, to the same time period a year ago, which statement is true?

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Virtual Instructor-Led Training Defined

So, what exactly do we mean when we say virtual instructor-led training?

To ensure usage of a common definition, the following is provided.

Virtual Instructor-Led Training (VILT):

A live, synchronous event that includes the use of web-conferencing technology. It often also includes access to virtual lab infrastructure, which enables completing lab work, remotely. The instructor is in one location and students may be located anywhere in the world. Virtual instructor-led training consists of two types:

  1. Open enrollment classes for which students from any company can register.
  2. Virtual onsite delivery in which a course is delivered to a single/dedicated customer audience.

For additional clarity, if you record a live, virtual instructor-led training session and post it to your online platform, this IS NOT virtual instructor-led training. The key element in the definition above is that it is a live, real-time (synchronous) event.

Virtual Training Capability

Unlike many organizations in companies who were caught off guard by work-from-home orders, the good news for customer training organizations is that a clear majority had remote training capability, prior to the pandemic, as demonstrated in the following graph.

Prior to the pandemic, did you offer virtual instructor-led training?

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So, while other functions in the company may have had to scramble to be remote/virtual ready, most education organizations did not. However, having said that, not all virtual learning experiences are created equally. The optimum experience consists of two components, as described below.

1. Web-Conferencing

An umbrella term for various types of online collaborative services including webinars, webcasts, and peer-level web meetings. This is the tool that provides the “lecture” portion of the virtual learning experience. Web-conferencing tools frequently used include Webex, GoToMeeting, and Zoom.

2. Hands-On Lab Environment

A virtual, on-demand, hands-on lab environment provides students with the infrastructure to perform the same lab exercises that would be completed in a classroom or onsite delivery. 

Some education organizations build, manage and host the environment using company resources and others rely on third party vendors such as ReadyTech, Skytap, or Strigo.

Currently, students are taking virtual instructor-led training by default, not by desire. The data below depicts that pretty clearly. If we look at 10 years of revenue history for public classroom, onsite, and virtual instructor-led training, in 2010, the cash cow was public classroom training. Ten years later, in 2020, its onsite training. Never has the cash cow been virtual instructor-led training. In a 10-year span, VILT revenue has increased a paltry four percentage points, from 11% to 15%.

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Some of you might be thinking that the percentage of VILT revenue has never been significant because it is priced differently than classroom training. Ten years of Education Services Pricing Survey data shows that this is not true. For years, there has been near parity for public classroom and virtual instructor-led pricing. To date, virtual instructor-led training has not been a contender because students want the tangible, human experience that face-to-face training provides. The $64,000 question is, “What happens post-pandemic?” Will students view virtual delivery as a viable alternative to face-to-face training, or will it always rank as second class?

If your education organization wants virtual training to have an afterlife, it is imperative that you replicate the classroom/onsite experience, which means it must include web-conferencing AND a virtual hands-on lab environment. Fortunately, at 70%, a majority of customer training organizations do provide both web-conferencing and virtual lab environment capability, as shown below.

Which best describes your virtual instructor-led training offer?

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The 30% of education organizations that use web-conferencing only for virtual delivery will need to add lab capability, if they expect to provide a viable alternative to classroom or onsite training. This will require an investment in infrastructure, but the upside is that once done, not only will the lab environment be functional for virtual instructor-led training, but it can be made accessible to those who are leveraging online learning, as well.

The most common form of learning subscription includes online learning, a virtual lab environment, and some number of seats to virtual instructor-led training. A subscription is a great way to monetize a lab environment, as there are hard costs to the education organization, particularly if you are using a third-party provider. Typically, each time a user accesses the environment, there is a per-person cost, so, the more users you have accessing the environment, the higher the cost, therefore, monetizing becomes especially important.

Have Questions? Contact TSIA for Help

Deferral Rates and Virtual Instructor-led Training

A survey question that was in both The Impact of COVID-19 on Classroom Training and the Impact of COVID-19 on Onsite Training polls was:

What do students most commonly do when the public classroom/onsite training is cancelled?

  • Take the same course via virtual instructor-led training
  • Take the same course online
  • If the course is not available virtually or online, ask for access to any online content
  • Defer until face-to-face training is available

What the data from these polls shows, is that the willingness to attend virtual instructor-led training is higher for classroom training than it is for onsite training. The percentage of students who opt to defer training until a face-to-face class can be scheduled is 25%, while the percentage of customers who opt to defer onsite training until a face-to-face class can be scheduled is 32%. This 32% however, is misleading because a geographic breakout shows a range in deferral rate from a low of 12% to a high of 46%, as illustrated.

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TSIA Education Services members frequently tell me that the adoption of virtual training is much lower outside of North America, and this data certainly corroborates that input. In fact, the percentage of customers who opt to defer training in Asia Pacific is higher than the percentage of customers who opt for a virtual onsite. For full details on the results for the classroom and onsite training polls, please refer to the following two blogs:

The propensity to defer until face-to-face training is available, whether for classroom or onsite training, is problematic for education organizations. The reality is that if it were not for the pandemic, the volume of virtual instructor-led training would be limping along as it has for the past 10 years. So, how can education organizations capitalize on the momentum realized by virtue of the pandemic.

Virtual Instructor-Led Training, Post-Pandemic

If there’s one question I’ve been asked too many times to count since the inception of the pandemic, this is it.

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My response to that question is, “Do you want it to be?”

If your answer to that question is “yes,” then it’s pretty clear that doing the same ole things is not going to get you the results you want. So, what must customer training organizations do differently to grow their virtual business? Here are a few ideas.

1. Build a subscription that includes some number of virtual instructor-led training days in the subscription offer.

If you already have a subscription offer, but it does not include VILT, add virtual training days to the offer. If a student can attend a course virtually, and it provides the same experience as the classroom, why would he or she pay extra to attend the same course in a public classroom setting.

2. Charge a premium for public classroom and/or onsite training. 

We know that there is pricing parity between public classroom and virtual instructor-led training. So, leave the price of virtual delivery the same, but increase the price of classroom training.

For example, if VILT and classroom training are each priced at $650/day, raise the price of classroom training to $1,000/day. If someone can have the same learning experience virtually, at $1,950, assuming a three-day course, and that same course is $3,000, in a public classroom delivery, I’d venture to say that most people will opt for saving more than $1,000. 

Use the same approach for onsite training. The virtual onsite offer price would be whatever your current face-to-face onsite training fee is. New pricing for face-to-face onsite training would be at a substantially higher price. Again, an extreme price differential will prompt customers to consider virtual options. Any face-to-face training is categorized as a “premium offer” and by default pricing would reflect that.

3. Offer a demo experience of virtual instructor-led training.

To quote an old Mercedes Benz tagline, “perception is reality.” Unfortunately, students’ perception of virtual delivery is that it is going to be different, or inferior in some way, compared to public classroom training. 

To mitigate this misperception, create a one-hour demo that contains 20 minutes of lecture, 30 minutes of hands-on lab activity and 10 minutes of Q&A/group discussion. A demo allows students to see that lecture, hands-on lab activities, interaction with fellow students, and the ability to ask the instructor questions, is no different than the classroom training experience. Assuming that your virtual instructor-led learning experience replicates public classroom training, consider a one-hour, live, demo to familiarize students with the virtual learning experience.

4. If you do not have a virtual lab environment, build one.

See #3 above. The key to driving learners to virtual instructor-led training is that it replicates the classroom experience. If you cannot provide hands-on lab activity, then you do not have an equivalent offer to which to drive the student.

5. Provide SPIFFs to inside sales/product sales/education services sales for selling virtual instructor-led training.

If there is no upside for selling classroom and onsite training, but there is upside for selling virtual instructor-led and virtual onsite training, it doesn’t take much to figure out that salespeople are going to follow the money. 

In conjunction with offering an incentive to sell virtual training, it is critical that the education organization also provide sales enablement to ensure that anyone selling education can articulate the value of a virtual learning experience in comparison to a face-to-face learning experience. 

Capacity Planning

Assuming that doing these five things enables the education organization to grow its virtual instructor-led training business, you will want to ensure that capacity is adequate to support projected growth. To that end, conducting capacity planning to assess your ability to scale and meet demand is essential.

You will want to assess the following:

  • Instructor capacity
  • Web-conferencing capacity
  • Lab infrastructure capacity

Rapid Research Response poll results, as shown below, indicate that most education organizations feel comfortable meeting demand, with only 15%, 6%, and 16% indicating that their ability to scale is lagging demand for delivery, web-conferencing and lab infrastructure, respectively.

For each item listed below, please rate the ability of the education organization to scale and meet demand for all forms of virtual instructor-led training. This includes open enrollment classes for which students register, as well as virtual onsite delivery.

1 – Our ability to scale is lagging demand

2 – Our ability to scale is keeping pace with demand

3 – Our ability to scale exceeds demand and we have capacity to accommodate more

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COVID-19 Checklist for Virtual Instructor-led Training 

 ✔ Ensure that the virtual instructor-led learning experience is comparable to public classroom and onsite deliveries.

 ✔ If you do not have virtual lab capability/infrastructure, either build it using company resources, or work with a third-party vendor to do so.

 ✔ Create a one-hour, live demo that students can attend to help alleviate any concerns relative to the virtual learning experience.

 ✔ If you want virtual instructor-led training to flourish, post -pandemic, act on as many of the five steps mentioned above, as possible.

 ✔ Conduct capacity planning, based on projected demand, to assess your education organization’s ability to scale. Develop a plan to address any delivery, web-conferencing, or lab infrastructure constraints. 

TSIA is Here for You

We understand that our member companies, the technology industry, and the world at large have been impacted by COVID-19. Now, more than ever, we need to work together to get through these challenging times. TSIA is committed to providing visibility as quickly as possible into the changing industry trends and practices that come as a result of COVID-19. Visit our Rapid Research Response Initiative resource page for more information.

If you have any questions related to how COVID-19 is impacting your organization, we’re here to help.

Read Other Blog Posts from This Series

The Impact of COVID-19 on Classroom Training

The Impact of COVID-19 on Onsite Training

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Maria Manning-Chapman

About Author Maria Manning-Chapman

Maria Manning-Chapman, is the distinguished vice president of education services research for TSIA. She has more than 25 years of education experience in the high-technology industry. Maria is well versed in the dynamics of running an education services business and has held leadership positions in operations, virtual learning, business development, curriculum development, delivery, and partner management over the course of her career.

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