Online training is the new normal, so let’s make it great

Social distancing has changed the way training is delivered
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By Dustin Eno

Social distancing has changed the way training is delivered.

Media and social media training is an important part of the service that we deliver to our clients. To ensure that we’re able to continue delivering this service while travel remains restricted, we have expedited the rollout of our online training courses.

Even during times of free movement, remote training can be excellent for many reasons. It is generally:

  1. more cost effective
  2. easier to schedule as each participant can complete the training to their schedule
  3. more environmentally friendly
  4. able to achieve better learning outcomes… if done right

But anyone who has completed online training will know that the last point is a big if. Too often online courses are essentially just a set of slides which used to be delivered in person and that have now been posted online with some narration. This approach almost never leads to good learning!

Whether delivered online or in person, in order to be effective, training should:

  1. build on, rather than repeat, existing knowledge and skills
  2. proceed at a pace that matches the learner’s ability to absorb the material (too slow is almost as bad as too fast)
  3. involve “doing” – it’s hard to integrate learning without practice

Online self-paced learning can be ideal for points 1 and 2 if the course is delivered in easily navigable bitesize pieces so that learners can take as much time as they need with new material or material they struggle with, while quickly moving through sections they find easy.

Integrating “doing” – practical practice – is much more difficult but is vital for any course as it is the only way to ensure students can actually do something with what they’ve learned.

Too many online courses are built on the model: 1. present material; 2. test the learner’s ability to answer multiple choice questions (a skill which rarely has anything to do with what’s being taught); 3. issue certificates. This isn’t good enough to ensure that the learning will be retained and integrated so it can be used in the real world. Better is possible; the technology is there.

Those of us who were around in the early 1990s will remember when computer games were like many of today’s online courses: 1. Read a page of text; 2. Select an option; 3. Repeat. The gaming industry wouldn’t be what it is today if they had stuck to that approach.

In every online training course, learners should be made to think, made to solve problems relevant to the subject matter, given an opportunity to apply the concepts to real world examples and to get things wrong before figuring out a better solution.

Online training is here to stay. It will never fully replace in-person training – nothing (yet) can replicate the interpersonal learning that occurs over lunch or during coffee breaks – but learning outcomes will only be maintained (hopefully improved) if e-learning developers take the time to integrate practical activities that actually relate to the subject and skills being taught.

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