In the early years of e-learning, it was hailed as an experimental way of teaching technical subjects to a set group of audiences who were familiar with the workings of a computer. With the easy availability and all-compassing familiarity that most people have with computers, learning experts use online training for a myriad of subjects and for varied audiences. In fact, in today’s corporate scenario, it would be difficult to find an organization today has not incorporated eLearning into its training programs in some way of the other.
Online training shares many features with classroom training and it also has some unique attributes. Learning and development professionals definitely need to alter their learning strategies while designing e-learning courses and instructors need to don new roles as well. Here are some tips that come in handy while successfully transitioning from classroom learning to online training.
1- The time factor: Designing an online course requires as much hard work as designing a classroom curriculum. The online platform has its own set of strengths which have to be harnessed while designing the course. In classroom training, the instructor can make certain changes and shifts as per the real-time response of the learners. The workload for an instructor is also comparable but during the initial days of transitioning, it can seem more work as it is not focused to a certain time as classroom sessions mostly are. For instance, in a classroom scenario, an instructor can do the bulk of his or her work while meeting with students. Also announcements or schedules can be made in the classroom – often collaboratively. Questions and queries can also be answered for the entire class. Classroom learning activities can be completed and any issues related to that activity can be discussed in real time with the entire class. Then everybody moves onto the next thing simultaneously. However, in the online setting, the workload is distributed. Learners will likely be working at different times during the week, and their questions will trickle in accordingly. A learning activity that might take 20 minutes to complete in a classroom setting might take a few days to discuss online, especially if students are not able to be online together at the same time. Learning mangers and instructors just have to be more patient to let learners get used to the new way of learning and work along with its nuances.
2- Being available for Learners: Instructors are the ones who will have to champion the cause of e-learning, especially in the initial days of implementation. For starters, instructors can let the learners know of the specific time slots that they are available for questions or concerns. Many online instructors start online sessions with an introduction session, where they share a picture of themselves to let the learners put a face to that ‘unknown’ mediator who manages their learning. Be it an answer to a query or the scores of an assignment submitted online, learning managers as well as online instructors should make sure that learners receive timely feedback. This helps them assess their own strengths and weaknesses, giving them time to ask relevant questions or ask for assistance before they move on to the next topics.
3- Using online tools wisely: There are many online tools that can be utilized to enhance the impact of online learning. But having said that, it is also important to keep a balance between what is necessary and what will make e-learning course look impressive. The main concern while including tools like animation, video or audio, is that all learners should be able to access them whithout hampering download speed or the working of other applications on their computers or other learning devices. Also sustainability of e-courses should be worked out as; many of the online tool technologies are rapidly evolving and newer versions make the older ones redundant.
4- Creating deadlines: Deadlines are necessary for all kinds of learning environment and holds immense importance in online learning as well. Though online learning is self-paced or flexible, there should be deadlines in place to make sure that all learners are completing the training within stipulated time. For learners too, courses which come with a definite time schedule sounds better as they can plan their work and other commitments accordingly. They still have the choice of deciding when they will exactly take out the time for learning and are able to plan better and finish the assigned course within the given time.
5- Motivating learners: Though adult corporate learners may need a lesser push for learning, most learners need to be extrinsically motivated to complete a training course. In a classroom scenario, the presence of the instructor is the motivation most learners need. In an online learning environment, the motivation needs to be cultivated through other means. A popular way of doing that is giving the learners a chance to communicate and collaborate with each other. This can be achieved through online communities or social sites where learners can get to know each other and learn together. Discussion boards can be created to discuss courses, specific topics or even get help for assignments. Instructors can also join these groups from time to time and guide learners.
Another way of motivating learners is to give them activities to do and make it mandatory, or better still, provide an assessment grade or course certificate. This gives the activity its due importance in the eyes of the learners and they have fun doing it as well – giving them an opportunity to work beyond the strict confines of a defined learning material.
For creating and delivering effective online trainings, both learning developers and instructors have to go beyond their comfort zone and do things a bit differently as they would when designing course content for classroom teaching. However considering the many benefits of e-learning and the immense success it has among corporate learners, the effort is worth its while!