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Online Learning: What Tele-Trainers Need to Know

June 23, 2015

Somewhere between 5 and 15% of those who start a massive open online course, more commonly called a MOOC, actually complete those courses. That’s pretty amazing, but you’re saying to yourselves, “Oh! Sure, sure, sure. That makes sense. It is free. They’re not invested. So, of course, they don’t finish it. That is not going to happen to us.” Well, in my own experience teaching online courses at the University since 2009, somewhere between 70% and 80% finish the course and that’s when they’ve paid thousands of dollars for that course and cannot get the money back.

You as an online trainer need to understand some of the similarities and differences between face-to-face and online education in terms of learners, so that you can maximize the similarities and minimize the differences when they are working against you.

The first similarity is wonderful news, actually. A very large study done by Means and the group at the US Department of Education found in a huge meta-analysis, that the outcomes for online learners are similar or sometimes, even better than they are face-to-face. That’s great news, right?

There are some caveats, of course, there always are. There is always a catch, right?

The first catch is that it seems that those who do better in online learning are spending more time at it. That because they wanted to learn it and they sought out to learn it, they spend more time than someone in a face-to-face class. So, it may not be that online is better or worse. It is just that people need to spend time with the topic or content.

The second thing that they are finding is that those who take online training are more motivated or self-motivated. In my more than thirty years of teaching, it’s my experience that the more motivated you are as a learner, the more the experience is enriching for you as well as for me as the trainer or teacher.

The second similarity is also wonderful news: the purposes do not change. What you want your audience to know, think or do stays the same.  I want you to know how to set up an online party or an online meeting. I want you to be able to understand the similarities and differences between face-to-face and online. That is today’s purpose or let us say I actually want you to invite someone to an online meeting. So those purposes are the same. Maximize on that. Use purposes that are clear and your audience will know exactly what it is you want them to know, think, or do.

So now let us talk about just a few differences that you need to be aware of. First there is still a wide range of people’s understanding of technology. I still have students who do not know how a computer works; they do not know what a web page is. I am floored. We are well into the 21st century and there are people who do not understand downloads, just words that are so common to those of us who are around technology all of the time. So, you have to understand what stage are your audience members are in, in terms of technology. Also, what access they have to technology. If you are working with a multi-national group, you may have some countries where they still do not have access to high speeds to the internet and the video content is just impossible to download. It just takes forever. Those of us who are old remember going to the library to download an article and take a book with us to read while we downloaded because it took so long. So that still exists in many places in the world, so you have to understand that.

The second one is a difference in attention span. Now, I am not sure that the attention span of the young folks today that as people like to say is less. I cannot tell. Maybe, people have always had a bad attention span but we fake it better in face-to-face. But, in my online courses, we meet together four or five times throughout the semester and students just get up in the middle in their pyjamas, which is one of the great things about online learning as you can be in your pyjamas but they will get up in the middle of the meeting and they will wander off, their dog is barking. One of my very favorites – the very first time we taught this new class we did about 3 years ago, one student’s roommate was so enamored with the fact that his roommate was on TV or on the internet. They kept walking back and forth behind him and swinging a golf club. I guess he thought it was his five minutes of fame. Anyway there are some research that says that people have less attention span when it is on the internet. When we are not face-to-face, there is some ability to feel disconnected. So you just have to know that it is going to happen and you need to anticipate that and what you need to do you engage your audience better.

There is also some practitioners out there, if you are a fan of Khan trainings K H A N. They are really fun, they write on the board while you learn along with them. He is adamant that videos cannot be more than five minutes. I am trying really hard to make this one around 5 minutes. I doubt I’ll make it but my own research at the university suggests that somewhere between 11 and 15 minutes, the correlation just drops. So, about, I got a pretty good correlation line going up until I get about 15 minutes and then students just drop off. So somewhere between 5 and 15 minutes, then you need to take a break, do something else  and then get your listeners to come back with you on a new topic.

So the last difference is what we call social presence. And what the research says is that learners need interaction. That if we could learn things on our own, we would have, right, and the data from the “mooks” is really proving the same concept. We are motivated by human interaction. So we need interaction with other learners. So I might give you an assignment before the teleconference to talk to five other people about how they feel about nutritional supplements or something. I might get you out talking about what we’re going to talk about and then when you come to the training, you’re better prepared.

We also need to have interaction between the learner and the material. So I might send you out some pamphlets before or after, that supplement or going in more depth about what I am talking about.

And the third thing is we need interaction with experts, we need people who really understand things because what an expert does for you is you are coming in and you are trying to get it, you are getting this concept about how online marketing works and how these things work and you are aiming in and the expert can see that you are just slightly off-course. An expert can twist your thinking just enough to get you make that connection sync up. So it is really important that as the trainer that you understand – It is your job to help them see where they are going off.

So then the last thing is just that online has both advantages and disadvantages and that you need to take advantage of the advantages and work against those things that are working against you. So, in online whether your participants are attending for free or they’ve paid money, the prior low rate of success requires us as trainers to consider how, when and why we choose online trainings instead of face-to-face.

References

Garrison, D. R., & Cleveland-Innes, M. (2005). Facilitating cognitive presence in online learning: Interaction is not enough. The American Journal of Distance Education, 19(3), 133-148.
Glance, D. G., Forsey, & Riley, M. (2013). The pedagogical foundations of massive open online courses. First Monday, 18(5). doi: doi:10.5210/fm.v18i5.4350.

Means, B., Toyama, Y., Murphy, R., Bakia, M., & Jones, K. (2009). Evaluation of Evidence-based Practices on Online Learning: A Meta-analysis and Review of Online Learning Studies Retrieved from www.ed.gov/about/offices/list/opepd/ppss/reports.html.

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