How to move your learning approach online
1st September 2014
Why would you want to?
In a traditional classroom, learning is centred on the instructor, and is a sequential process. The instructor determines content, and sets the learning pace. It's instructor-led training (ILT).
Not an ideal environment.
Often, students won't ask questions or ask for repetition in class - even if they don't understand the material. They also have no opportunity to listen repeatedly to what's been explained.
An elearning environment shifts the emphasis to learner-centred activities, and provides greater interaction between the learner and the course content. elearning uses information and communications technology, and may employ some or all of these:
- Desktop and laptop computers
- Software, including assistive software
- Interactive whiteboards
- Digital cameras
- Mobile and wireless tools, including mobile phones and tablets
- Electronic communication tools, like email, discussion boards, chat facilities and video conferencing
- Virtual Learning Environments (VLE)
- Learning Management Systems (LMS)
Elearning also brings ILT courses directly to the learner, on-demand. This eliminates the need to travel, allowing learners to study wherever they wish. Supplementing or fully transferring traditional instruction materials to elearning format offers a cost-effective and worthwhile opportunity.
Material can generally be converted into three types of delivery for elearning:
- Synchronous learning: real- time instruction, e.g. live webinars or massive open online courses (MOOCs).
- Asynchronous learning: self-paced courseware, web forums, etc.
- Hybrid, or blended, learning: mixing the strengths of 1 and 2, where relevant.
It’s not just about moving a PowerPoint presentation or recorded lecture online, to increase accessibility, your goal should be to enhance the educational experience through engagement, reflection, discussion, and application where possible.
How's it done?
These processes should be considered when making the transition:
What does the target audience need to learn?
Assess the demographic, and their overall level of prior knowledge. Gender, age, and previous education aside, few learners have the patience to sit through long classes without being actively engaged. How does the ability to discuss and verbally interact with others transfer to a remote and dispersed audience?
Consider the technology. Real-time chat? Image or whiteboard sharing? Webcams? Go for the best design in terms of length, interactivity, sociability, and actual instruction.
Match the learners’ needs with the organisation's goals. The clearer the strategy, with identified cost/benefit opportunities, the more potential there is for a sustained commitment.
Examine the available materials. Will the currently-defined ILT classes transfer well? Or are there considerations which indicate a hybrid learning approach may be better? How can you best capture less-defined assets, like speaker notes and anecdotes?
Design & Development:
What's the best way to present the content?
Consider a ‘flipped classroom’ learning approach; present your initial content as an objective summary, with key terms and concepts. The overall design should build questions and excitement in the audience for the web-based learning opportunities that follow.
Use the strengths of the online medium. Are there funny anecdotes that can be presented as animations? Any serious ‘war stories’ that can be reinforced by YouTube-style video clips?
Adapt or replace classroom activities for the web. If you’re having learners go through a process, let them attempt the procedure as realistically as possible through a simulated environment.
Consider a hybrid (synchronous/asynchronous) learning approach. For material that doesn't lend itself well to other media, work with audio and narration. Limit your text to bullet point summaries, and tie in relevant imagery wherever possible. You might offload detailed information to downloadable handouts (like PDFs) for users to save and review later.
Develop engagement and interaction between students, content, and instructor. Can content be written with a story-line or short scenarios?
Deployment & Marketing:
Encourage the participants, and offer best-practice suggestions for a smooth transition and ideal performance.
Consider the timing. Interactive components can seriously affect this. Typically, an online course can range from 20 to 80% the duration of the original material.
Mix & Match? If some aspects of a course really need to be in-person, you’re likely to need a hybrid solution; part elearning, part ILT.
Sell it to budget and management. An average of 50% reduction in course ‘length’ is a feasible target - and a significant saving.
Ensure that your learners are aware of the benefits. Spread the word via company intranets, newsletters, and internal email lists. Use social media avenues like Twitter, Facebook, and your company website or blog.
Has the training met your goals, and can improvements be made?
Define and measure the attributes you want to see improved. From learner satisfaction and performance, to how well the course is meeting your stated objectives. Take measurements before and after completion of the course.
Capture user feedback. As a simple online poll presented at the end of a webinar, or a more in-depth survey integrated into a web-based lesson.
Use the platform. Interaction and quiz data gathered via an LMS can be assessed with its reporting tools, to show how well the user’s performed, gain insights into what they've learned, and evaluate what specific concepts and questions may need to be improved.
Whatever the technology, learning is the vital element. If your target audience understands the content and improves their performance, consider your conversion efforts a success!