Jemima van Zyl explores the pros and cons of online learning

As a professional Assistant with more than 30 years’ experience in a variety of business scenarios, I experienced the lack of training in the Secretarial environment. The Assistant or Secretary in the office serves as the core of daily business operation and she is the one to assist and serves everybody crossing her path, and in an even more intensive way, if she is an Assistant to top management. The ability to handle a thousand things at once, stay calm and absorb stress without any expression of anxiety makes her the anchor in the office.

Her superiors usually promise her that she will be able to attend annual training funded by the company, but unfortunately, so often this is where it all ends. Over the years as a successful professional Assistant I have made the mistake of booking onto “Personal Assistant Excellence” courses, only to discover that it never gets approved. Generally the excuse is that it is the most demanding time in the office and my superiors cannot see their way clear to do business without my presence. I trust that there are many Assistants and secretaries who can relate to this same scenario. This is where virtual training is the absolute perfect solution.

Introduction to Virtual Training

Virtual training is the modern learning methodology that captures classroom content from experts and delivers it to the desktops of users to be studied over and over again by thousands of individuals all over the world. Since the dawn of computer technology and communication through the internet, virtual learning has become a requirement and necessity for the enhancement and advancement of secretaries all over the world.

The concept of virtual learning is a booming industry because of the easy and practical use of online research and learning facilities available to everybody via the internet. Virtual learning is a process that provides information visualization technology to address the challenges of discovering and exploiting information especially for the purpose of learning. Virtual learning is used to connect secretaries of different companies to each other, to any form of learning guide, from experiential learning to content, and to other mentors and learners globally. It is the greatest opportunity for enhancing knowledge without incurring time and costs away from the office.

If you are considering e‑learning, you will be able to assess the value of the courses available in your specific environment and need for knowledge after reading this article.

Training as a Method of Self‑Enrichment

Instructors and educational providers who have a solid experience in traditional classroom training recognize that while the mode of delivery may be different, the commitment to good information designed for the adult learner and presented in an engaging way is essential to achieving professional and developmental goals. Instructors and students alike are able to save a lot of time and paperwork within virtual learning environments. One can focus on learning without worrying about the availability of tools and materials, since being on‑line allows access to a multitude of resources on the web. Whilst a physical presence at a training facility may result in networking with other people, more and more learners are now able to achieve the same or even better results through on‑line interaction.

Secretaries’ Opportunities in a Virtual World

Secretaries and Assistants now have the advantage of a virtual classroom that they can attend any time in office hours without leaving the office. They are able to book and log into their virtual classroom without having the everyday hassles of travel, time and costs to attend a physical session at a specific venue. Attendees today benefit from blended learning opportunities. Learners are given a chance to revise any sections of the lesson which they didn’t fully understand through revision of the saved work presented by the facilitator. Students experience the quality and benefits of “Instructor-led training” from the comfort of their desktop, whenever they need it. Secretaries are then able to join other groups as they progress through various levels or disciplines.

They can raise their virtual hand to ask questions and interact with fellow students attending the same virtual classroom session on the internet. Students and instructors use intuitive mark‑up tools and whiteboards that facilitate brainstorming and create the availability to share ideas and experiences with each other through the internet any time of the day or night. This makes it so much easier for the learners to keep up to date with the latest trends in their secretarial career and stay ahead of the competition. Secretaries from all over the world can learn about the same topic all at one time and share different ideas applicable to their various industries. There is no limit in gaining knowledge and power.

Incorporation of Information in an Office Environment

Within this technology, secretaries can re‑access their classroom environment whenever they need information. Many providers also capture the way an organization wants to relay its information, topics, message and teaching style to its employees. One of the characteristics of the information age is the concept of “mass customization”, that is, developing applications that permit a wide variation in preferences, features and enabling valuable personal datasets such as e‑mail aliases, bookmarks etc. Beyond the basic information and communication tools described above, some virtual learning is based on advanced instructional environments such as virtual realities and multimedia courseware. Profound investment in technology in this decade has set the platform to a worldwide explosion of information.

Virtual textbooks move the learners beyond content mastery to information-seeking and problem-solving skills. In comparison to traditional training sessions, the web seems to be more suitable for learning. can be delivered in both linear and non‑linear formats. Through web‑based learning, vast amounts of information can be searched, re‑organized and downloaded from decentralized worldwide digital libraries. At the same time, adventures in learning call for creative and potent environments where individuals

share meaningful knowledge and experiences in constructing new information and ideas. Through information technologies, virtual learning can be integrated into organisational and community-learning strategies.

Responsibilities of Instructors

Instructors can also share material with learners, who no longer need to copy material from the white board or computer-presented slides. Instructors and learners alike are able to save a lot of time and paperwork with virtual-learning environments. However, Instructors must monitor and check virtual discussion boards daily, encourage learners to post ideas and responses, and facilitate the learning of new tools and skills. Instructors will want to use modules and instructional objects from a variety of sources to build their courses. Instructors can also share resources through the e‑learning platform, for example videos of the latest progress and development in the secretarial virtual world and invite experts to attend the virtual sessions as experienced speakers on specific subjects related to an efficient secretary. The disadvantage is that there are not that many instructors who are trained to teach on‑line courses.

Web and Virtual Classrooms

A virtual learning activity can be as simple as students visiting a web page posted by a facilitator to receive instructions for the assignment. White board technologies and mini webcams allow for virtual collaboration as well as the ability to see and hear other virtual classmates. Many institutions have started to extend access to core administrative systems, generally through web interfaces. New networks can allow learners new opportunities way beyond those offered by the web in its current state, but careful planning and innovations will be required to ensure that the potential for the scope of delivery is reached. Virtual boardrooms and classrooms in the workplace position small and medium businesses in parallel with larger corporations when it comes to personnel and client training.


Research has shown that learners are keen to take online classes because they are able to obtain the course schedule they require to enrich themselves with the appropriate knowledge to enhance their careers. Despite 20 years of research into computer- mediated learning, very little is known on how to effectively establish, manage and evaluate virtual team performance. Thus, the role of social presence and group development should deserve specific attention by instructors and researchers.


This is the most cost-effective form of education available in the personal assistant and administrative market around the globe. Two areas to consider are physical delivery options and the communications and information tools available with those options. It may also be the case that the younger generation of learners is always going to be the optimum number for a “community of learners”, regardless of the technology tools available. Most virtual courses are recorded and available to students to review.


Of course, taking internet‑based courses at the post‑college level can have both pros and con’s therefore read carefully to decide if virtual learning is for you.
Beyond the basic information and communication tools described above, some virtual learning is based on advanced instructional environments such as virtual realities and multimedia courseware. But unlike the formal classroom teaching, virtual learning is a collaborative process and emphasizes co‑operative effort and interactions. Where virtual learning is available, subject offerings in training centres have often changed or even reduced due to efficiency and availability of virtual learning.

Get ready to expand your mental frontiers; virtual learning is a mouse click away, on a PC near you.

The Pros and Cons of Online Learning


  • No time spent commuting to class
  • No travel costs you can have a job while you take classes
  • You can learn when you need to
  • Your learning options are not constrained by your geographic location
  • You can learn at your own pace
  • Learning can be fitted into your busy schedule
  • Often more student-to- student interaction


  • Can be more effective for certain types of learners (shy, reflective, language challenged, those that need more time)
  • Can be more focused on the learner and less on the instructor
  • Instruction can be more customised and flexible
  • Can lower costs for both learning providers and organisations that need training
  • Often less costs for students than traditional programs
  • Side benefits of learning new technologies and technical skills
  • Instructors need to learn to be effective online instructors
  • Hard for instructors to move traditional content online
  • More time consuming for instructors to provide individualised feedback (because more learners are often actively involved)
  • Equipment needs of students and learning providers
  • Technical training and support of learners and instructors
  • Academic honesty of online students
  • Types and effectiveness of assessments
  • Lack of face-to-face interaction
  • Equity of access to learners of all backgrounds and parts of society
  • Requires new skills and responsibilities from learners
  • Does not provide many social aspects of a true campus or traditional classroom
Jemima van Zyl started as Junior Secretary in 1977 at a financial institution and excelled for 20 years as a Professional Assistant and Office Administrator in some of South Africa’s best companies. In 2005 she was diagnosed with severe breast cancer and ... (Read More)

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