Scenario: A training manager has been frustrated with the quality of communication among trainees in his face-to-face training sessions and wants to try something new. With his supervisor’s permission, the trainer plans to convert all current training modules to a blended learning format, which would provide trainees and trainers the opportunity to interact with each other and learn the material in both a face-to-face and online environment. In addition, he is considering putting all of his training materials on a server so that the trainees have access to resources and assignments at all times.
As the trainer begins the process of developing distance learning format for his training course, there must be a realization that simply transferring the content that is currently used online will not be sufficient. As Gutierrez (2012) states
What works well in person and in traditional classroom situations does not translate to the eLearning environment. Take the Power Point, for example. In traditional training sessions, instructors can stop and discuss each slide more deeply, answer questions and encourage discussion. In the eLearning environment, the Power Point becomes a boring slide show that employees simply click through as quickly as possible or only refer to when completing the assignment (Para. 4).
Developing a distance education course requires an extensive amount of pre-planning. In redesigning the course, the trainer should take this opportunity to evaluate the learning system in its current state and try to pinpoint some possible reasons for why quality communication is lacking. Just as with any instructional project, a systematic approach must utilized that will examine the individual components that make up the learning system and how they interact, including the learners, facilitators, content, instructional strategies/methods and materials. According to Simonson et. al (2012) “Taking the time to learn about the learners in the class yields a more productive learning environment”(Pg. 154). Since the learner’s needs should be at the heart of the course design, it is important to understand the learner’s
- Cultural backgrounds,
- Educational Levels
- Level of familiarity with distance education and the instructional methods being used or considered
- How knowledge in the course will be applied
- General cognitive abilities
Once, the course objectives are defined and the essential content identified and how it is divided up, the trainer should examine the many instructional strategies available for use in a distance education environment. During this examination, there should be a focus on activities that encourage and provide opportunities for interactivity and student group work with clearly defined goals. Whereas the traditional course format may be limited in its ability to illustrate course content, in moving the course online, the opportunity should be taken to examine and evaluate multimedia tools that can illustrate key concepts or topics such as 3-D simulations, videos, tables, etc.
As is customary when dealing with any technology, a testing and contingency plan must also be developed to identify potential technical problems and to address unforeseen technical problems that will undoubtedly occur at some point (Simonson et. al, 2012).
The quality of student interactions and communication could potentially be greatly improved by the addition of a threaded discussion to the course. According to Simonson et al. (2012) threaded discussions are “one of the most effective techniques to promote interaction in distance education”(Pg. 156). According to Elmendorf & Ottenhoff (2009) discussions foster extended engagement, rich exchanges, reflective understanding, intellectual play and community building. Threaded discussions are beneficial because students are given ample time to formulate informed responses. The instructor’s involvement is important in these threads and in the course as whole. In the learner-centered distance education course, students are much more responsible for their learning and the instructor is more of a facilitator. For their part in the threaded discussions, the instructor’s responses and their frequency set the tone for the discussion; and the instructor’s leading questions can help learners further understand and encourage further interaction.
Best Practices Guide
- Utilize established instructional design models to systematically design course
- Define course objectives and equivalent assessment criteria to measure when objectives have been met
- Identify and understand the learner characteristics
- Identify essential course content and how it is divided over the period of the course
- Develop a syllabus
- Identify course multimedia and resources to illustrate key concepts
- Develop formative assessment activities that offer the learner opportunities for interactivity with other learners, the content and the facilitator i.e. chats, blogs, discussions, wikis, group projects etc.
Utilize threaded discussions
- Develop open ended discussion questions and scenarios
- Divide learners into subgroups
- Facilitator should respond to every 4-5 learner post with leading questions to promote further discussion
Develop a technology testing and contingency plan to identify and handle technical issues
- Alpha, Beta Testing
- Backup Plan
Evaluate course and constantly revise
- Assessment Scores
Elmendorf, H., & Ottenhoff, J. (2009). The Importance of Conversation in Learning and the Value of Web-based Discussion Tools. Retrieved Oct 16, 2012, from Academic Commons: http://academiccommons.org/commons/essay/importance-conversation-learning
Gutierrez, K (2012). Best Practices: Converting from Traditional Training to eLearning. Retrieved Oct 20, 2012, SHIFT’s eLearning Blog http://info.shiftelearning.com/blog/bid/222701/Best-Practices-Converting-from-Traditional-Training-to-eLearning
Simonson, M., Smaldino, S., Albright, M., & Zvacek, S. (2012). Teaching and Learning at a Distance. Boston, MA: Pearson Education.