The gurus got talking at McCrudden virtual HQ about the various online conferencing tools. For online training, we adapt and use the platform that suits each client, so we’ve used quite a few of the options.
There are three main platforms that our clients tend to use: Zoom, MS Teams and Webex. By far the favourites were Zoom and MS Teams, although one guru said “Thank God for Zoom! That is keeping pressure on Microsoft to stay with the game.”
So what are the pro’s and con’s?
Microsoft Teams is part of the Microsoft Office package of tools. It comes as part of the 365 plan, but can be downloaded free, or there are different price plans available. It is widely used in the public sector.
Our gurus like it because:
- Because of its reputation for data security, it’s used by more clients, and so most learners are familiar with it.
- For larger events, you can have more people attend.
- You can see the order that people put their virtual hands up.
- If you share content and forget the sound, you can change ‘live’ without having to go out and re-share.
- You can change the names of the breakout groups, which is sometimes handy for training games and practical exercises.
However, MS Teams did take some flack for its useability:
- It sometimes feels like MS Teams is designed for an organisations internal staff to collaborate. As we are external to our clients, there are some features (like Whiteboard) that we can’t use in training.
- There’s no countdown clock for ending breakout groups which makes it feel brutal. Whilst it gives a 10 second warning, it is so small that it is often missed by everyone. Personally, I find myself continually apologising for cutting people off mid-sentence when I close a group.
- Sharing handouts with learners can be problematic. Security settings often mean we can’t share a document in the chat, so we have to paste a hyperlink to our OneDrive. Sometimes even that doesn’t work.
- Sharing screen can sometimes make it harder to see the group – that’s why a lot of our trainers work with two screens.
- Whilst it’s helpful that you can mute all the participants (for example if they have a lot of background noise), but you can’t unmute them, so if they don’t realise they’ve been muted people can be chatting away to you and all you can see is mime.
Zoom is a cloud-based video conferencing platform that can be used for video conferencing meetings, audio conferencing, webinars, meeting recordings, and live chat. The basics are free then there are different plans and prices.
Our gurus believe it is a great tool:
- It’s reliable
- Many learners are familiar with it after using it to keep in touch with friends and family in lockdown
- It’s responsive – chat and breakout rooms work instantaneously
- More than one person can share their screen at a time.
- Polls are better – you can ask several questions in a poll (and have multiple polls)
- There’s good noise cancellation, which means people can mostly have their microphones on and interact more naturally.
- There’s a tool to ask for help within breakout room.
- Zoom is much better for the features it gives to external facilitators. It’s like Microsoft think the only people you might want to collaborate with are in your own organisation.
But initial concerns over security deterred some large organisations from using it, and since MS Teams comes as part of your Office Package, budget conscious organisations often question the need to licence another tool when they already have Teams.
Webex by Cisco is a lesser used online solution for calling, meetings, messaging, and events in the cloud for teams of all sizes. Like Zoom and Teams, there is a free package with additional plans and prices available. There is a meeting package and a separate training package that is more expensive but comes with added features like a better Q&A feature so questions can be prioritised and raised-hands are automatically ordered. It also has some features to help with training admin, including an e-commerce tool if you were running open courses.
We’ve tried Webex Meetings and Webex Training, and actually have found our delivery of training on the meetings platform was fine.
There are many ways to personalise your screen as a participant (including pulling out your chat window so that you can put it where you want), but sometimes too many options can confuse learners. Especially when it’s a platform they haven’t used before.
Our gurus said they liked:
- The polling feature.
- You can also send a group reminder for everyone to join the session. In contrast, in MS Teams you ‘request to join’ each individual, and if someone then joins the session the order in the list changes and it’s hard to know who you’ve reminded.
- In breakouts people can ask for help which immediately lets the trainer know.
Are there some new tools out there?
We’ve been hearing lots of positive things about Butter. We haven’t used it much yet as our learners are not familiar with it, but when they do get to know it, it is certainly one to watch.
We’ve also used Showtime by Zoho. That’s an interesting platform because it was built specifically for training, rather than meetings. It has some really cool features, like learners being able to access and download handouts from a handouts area and a built in ‘training feedback’ tool for collecting your virtual happy sheets. But it’s not mainstreamed and many of our clients prefer to use a platform that their staff are comfortable with.
We asked our gurus if the Virtual Training Fairy could give you any super-cool new feature, what would it be? Here’s what they said:
- Each participant chooses a 3D avatar, so if they won’t or can’t turn on their video, they are represented by an avatar with a background/setting of their choice! People that are able to have their videos on, should be able to switch to avatars when in the mood. So much fun could be had with this concept, including the avatar using your facial expressions in the camera to animate your avatar – you smile, it smiles…
- Being able to see into all breakout rooms at once as a trainer – so you can see they are working and are OK.
- Built in surveys, quizzes.
- Built in countdown timer for breaks / solo working.
- Stream music / voice to breakout rooms.
- Listen in to breakout rooms without appearing visually, eg a little red light appears to let them know the trainer is listening in, but we’re not actually ‘there’ in the room, which often distracts them. It’s the equivalent of listening in from 2m away to check everything’s tootling along OK.
- I’ve been using Mentimeter to create a variety of live polls, word clouds and quizzes. It would be great to have that built into any of the conferencing apps.
What do you think?
What about you? Let us know what you love, and maybe don’t love so much about the tool you use for your online meetings. Email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.