The Virtual Classroom: To Sidekick Or Not To Sidekick?

With the cutbacks in travel budgets, more companies are looking to technology as a medium for training their employees.  Each day, people are writing about effective methods for keeping learners engaged inside of the virtual classroom.  Most of us are becoming familiar with these techniques, but there’s still a piece of the puzzle that’s missing…

Where is your sidekick?!

I’m talking about someone who is there with you to ensure that the technology won’t get in the way of learning.  I’ve seen too many virtual classroom sessions where learners can’t join the teleconference, are unable to view presentation slides, they can’t annotate, etc…  Some of these sessions were even cancelled because the trainer could not get the technology to cooperate!

Even if the technical problems aren’t that bad, the trainer is usually too busy teaching to help the learner resolve some of the smaller issues, so the learner gets left behind in the wonderful world of multitasking because they cannot resolve the problem.

As someone who has been in this sidekick role, here’s why I recommend using a virtual classroom “Producer”:

  • You can spend your time actually training, instead of troubleshooting.  I can help learners with their technical challenges without being a distraction to the rest of the group.
  • It adds a second voice to the training.  Most people can stand one voice over a phone line for a limited period of time.  I act as the technology “liaison” and tell your learners how to use the functions of the virtual classroom to add some variety.
  • I handle some of the more complicated features of the virtual classroom behind the scenes.  This eliminates some of the lag time between speaking and sending documents to the learners through the virtual classroom, as an example.  This also helps to provide smoother transitions between activities.

These are all reasons I label my role as a sidekick, “Producer.”  I handle “producing” the training while you can concentrate on the most import part…the material.

What about you?  What’s your worst virtual training horror story in regards to a technical glitch and how did you go about resolving the problemClick Here To Leave A Comment

6 thoughts on “The Virtual Classroom: To Sidekick Or Not To Sidekick?

  1. Rather than a sidekick, tech helpdesk would be a better term. Although, learning management systems are more user friendly these days, there are always instances where help is needed by overwhelmed teachers.

    “Online learning technical assistants” may be another job category that can increase with the surge in the adoption of online education.

    Teachers should focus on quality of content in their education materials while technical online learning assistants per college or university can even recommend/customize e-learning platforms and tools.

    And one of the tools I would like to recommend is MySpeed from enounce. It can help students slow down or speed up e-lectures according to their learning pace.

    • Thank you for your comments, Celina. I highly agree with you that the lack of “technical assistants” is a current setback for bringing eLearning to a broader range of audiences. Unfortunately, most teachers/trainers are finding out the hard way that when it comes to eLearning, they need to partner with someone from more of a technical background to support both them and the learners. This will allow them to focus solely on the quality of the content.

      Thank you for your recommendation on MySpeed, as well. I will be sure to look into it.

  2. Technical assistants should be decided on a school or university level, because I also foresee teachers using their own money to get the help they need if the schools don’t budget this.

  3. Hello I am a VCT Producer currently with a Learning Company in Seattle and a Live Theatre Stage Manager, in my other life. I would add that there is a missing ingredient in the help desk/Technical assistant characterization of the VCT Producer. The Producer has to be someone who understands and can confidently guide a live experience. They have to understand the “flow” of a live event very much like a live theatre stage manager or live event manager does. With that understanding they can make on the spot decisions for the presenter if the session is going over or there is a blocking technical issue that needs to be worked around. This type of thinking on your feet and understanding of live presentations and flow is not usually in the typical job description of a help desk person.

    • Those are excellent comments, Linda! You are 100% correct that a Producer is more than just a “help desk assistant.” While technical support is part of the job description, the Producer can take on multiple activities, even including a speaking role. While the presenter is the primary voice, having the Producer speak can bring more of a “radio talk show” feel to the sessions. The Producer also needs to have decision-making authority to ensure the overall session is a success, especially when the presenter is already occupied with teaching the material.

      I like that you mentioned you’re a Live Theatre Stage Manager. There’s a good comparison between the two roles. The Producer can be more than just a live session support person. In many cases, the Producer has both pre- and post-session responsibilities to ensure that the participants/attendees have a great experience. For example, if an attendee has a bad pre-session experience, that affects their outlook on the live session, as well. The Producer needs to manage all parts of the puzzle to ensure all attendees (and even the presenter) have an enjoyable experience.

  4. I think of ‘sidekick’ as a 2nd laptop, sitting right next to you, logged into the virtual classroom. That way, you have an immediate backup at your fingertips, should you need it. Having a producer is excellent backup as well!

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