Video-calling platforms such as Zoom have seen a rapid rise to fame and a huge rise in user numbers since people switched to taking their meetings virtually. Driven by the restrictive circumstances of COVID-19, everything from fitness classes to coffee clubs, intimate dinners and birthday parties, business meetings and educational courses have found a new home in the virtual meeting space. The mobile app alone for the video-calling platform Zoom is now estimated to have more than 170 million monthly active users, a number likely to grow as the pandemic continues.
At first a stop-gap measure in response to public lock-downs, the silver linings of remote working and learning are now becoming apparent. The number of remote workers post-COVID-19 are projected be up to 500% greater than pre-pandemic, suggesting that this new way of working, learning and socialising may be here to stay.
In my recent experiences delivering our pilot Virtual Traffic Offender Intervention Programs, using Zoom and built-in features such as slide and video share, I must admit that I had some initial reservations. At first it struck me as an artificial experience; in comparison to our usual face-to-face group programs an essentially lesser version.
However, after delivering two or three “Virtual Classrooms” some unexpected advantages began to emerge, giving us insight into the long-term potential of the platform for organisations such as Road Sense Australia.
Firstly, perhaps due to the information being presented to participants in their own homes, there was a greater sense of ease than is usually found in face-to-face sessions held at public venues. Because participants were not in a strange environment, one in which they might feel a sense of interest and curiosity rather than insecurity and uncertainty, it seemed that participants were in a better state of mind to learn from the outset. People settled into the sessions quickly and the groups became very focused early on, discussion sessions were of a high quality and enhanced the learning quite noticeable.
Before long, the fact that we weren’t all actually in the same room seemed to be having little to no impact on participants; the session was flowing along in much the same rhythm as would be found in a program held at a physical venue.
Secondly, a virtual program has no geographical boundaries. People who live in places that are sparsely populated (of which there are many in Australia) and who are unlikely to have a face-to-face program nearby, are suddenly able to interact with and obtain the same training as everyone else. The usefulness of this improvement in accessibility cannot be overstated in a country as vast as ours, in which inequalities of access can result in very different outcomes between people living in remote areas and those living in urban centres.
It is likely that physical face-to-face training will always be an important part of our methods, despite the advantages of emerging technology. But coming from a position of healthy scepticism, the current generation of tele-conferencing technology has more than proven its worth – particularly in a time of crisis – and is increasingly becoming a normal part of what we do. Alongside our self-paced online course and our usual face-to-face programs, this new mode of delivery is now expected to take a prominent place in our operations for the foreseeable future.
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