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Planning an online course can present you with the problem of having too many options to consider. You could spend all day evaluating new eLearning tools designed to enthrall students and make instructors' lives easier. Since you can't include everything, eventually you have to decide what types of resources, media, and structure your course is going to have.

One of the great advantages of eLearning is that it allows for students to engage with the material on their own time, proceeding at a faster pace when they're on a roll, or going back to review older material when they need a refresher. Students have come to expect this kind of flexibility in their online classes.

However, organizations that have a vested interest in seeing their learners succeed know that human instruction still makes a huge difference. Most educators rely on instructor-led training (ILT) when it is critical for students to acquire competency in important new skills.

In some cases, the ideal solution for making online ILT courses more open and flexible is to include self-paced labs in a virtual setting. These labs recreate hardware and software platforms in a virtual, full-featured, and secure environment. They allow students to autonomously practice and experiment, with the very skills and tools they're learning.

The term “blended learning” refers to this concept of combining instructor-led teaching with self-paced student activities. Not sure if your online course would benefit from the inclusion of self-paced virtual training labs? Keep an eye out for these four telltale indicators.

1. Students Completing Courses at Different Paces

Have you ever been in a lecture class that ground to a halt because one student wasn't understanding a key concept? Maybe there were classes where that student was you! All of us struggle with difficult material sometimes, but we don't always struggle at the same time.

In a blended learning course, a student who masters a concept earlier than their peers can move on without having to wait for the rest of the class to catch up. Conversely, a student who needs more time won't be forced to move forward before they fully grasp the subject.

Students can use the virtual lab either to challenge themselves with advanced concepts and exercises. It also allows them to review the basics, and practice the things they're having trouble with.

2. Resistance to Training

Students who are going through mandatory training sometimes have a hard time seeing the value in what they're learning. At the same time, providing that training may not be optional from the organization's perspective.

Smart organizations will find ways to motivate students to embrace non-voluntary training programs. When students have a dim outlook on such programs, it's often because they've had direct experience with lengthy, fixed-pace courses that felt like a waste of time to them.

Giving students control over the time they're spending on training is an effective way to keep them engaged and interested. Students who feel that only a select portion of the course material is relevant to them can choose to focus on that material in the self-paced lab.

3. Declining Student Engagement

When lecture and videos dwell on abstract theories, or problems that don't directly relate to a student's reasons for taking a course, it can be hard to sustain their interest. When students aren't interested in the subject they're learning, it becomes incredibly difficult to keep them engaged in a way that supports their understanding and knowledge retention.

Virtual training labs provide an outlet for students who might otherwise fall prey to distractions and disengagement. They can work on the real-world problems they're trying to solve in a simulated virtual environment. This reinforces the direct link between the course material and their own educational goals.

4. Requests for Support Persist After Training

Successfully completing a course doesn't always mean that actionable knowledge was transferred. When students still request a lot of assistance or support after attending training, that can be a sign that the material didn't “stick.” This can manifest differently depending on whether your students are employees or customers of your organization.

In the case of employees, their supervisors or IT departments may notice them continuing to ask for help with things that would have been covered in the training course.

For customers, you may see them continuing to open support tickets at the same rate and for the same issues, or not progressing to use advanced features or upgraded tiers of your product despite months of usage.

In both cases, the ability to develop hands-on experience with the material as it is being taught, in a way that feels directly relevant to the learner, can make all the difference.

Conclusion

If you see these telltale signs in your training, it’s definitely time to consider a change to self-paced virtual training labs.

Today's students have demands for their attention coming at them from all directions. They require open and flexible learning solutions that meet them where they are.

Self-paced coursework in a virtual training lab can be a way to meet their needs for a more personalized modes of engagement. These labs come with the added benefit of giving them more hands-on experience and better retention of the material. For smart organizations, that’s a win-win situation.