Even before the days of $4 gasoline and $600 air fares for coach, online distance learning technologies such as WebEx, NetMeeting, GoToMeeting and Genesys had been gaining momentum in corporate training curricula.
These technologies can be excellent tools for bringing many training presentations and supplemental learning elements to wide audiences over a virtually unlimited geographical area. Courses delivered in this medium can also be ramped up quicker than a fully interactive Web-based training course, because the programming time is nearly eliminated.
But these technologies and companion teleconferencing services come with a price tag, so they should be used wisely and effectively. Below are some tips for incorporating online distance learning into your fleet’s training plans.
CONVERT IN PHASES
Do not try to convert your entire classroom course catalog to distance learning all at once. It is best if you make the transition incrementally, over time, and implement continuous improvement strategies as you go. Start with some of the most logical courses: I/T training, sales training and some knowledge-based technical courses often transition well.
Also allow time for your trainers to get used to the medium, if they were primarily classroom instructors. Some of the most dynamic stand-up instructors may initially have a hard time bringing that enthusiasm to the virtual world.
Even after making the transition, don’t overuse the format. Some courses, especially those requiring complex hands-on skills, should always be left in the classroom/shop environment.
When setting up to launch your first distance learning classes, make sure you take time to pilot the courses with small groups. Number one, you’ll need to make sure the technology works as advertised. You’ll also need feedback from the pilot group as to what portions of the presentation need to be more engaging, or where a break for some Q&A or other interaction would help. Not only do your trainers need to become aware of the technology being used, your learners may also have to do so.
Start with some very short courses that get the students used to being active rather than passive learners. Take frequent question breaks, and use leading questions yourself. Encourage them to use the chat or electronic whiteboard areas. If the trainer is ready to do so, hand over control of the screen to one or more students if the content dictates.
You should also document participant “rules”—such as moving to a quiet area for the class, turning off cell phones, not putting a phone on hold if it activates music or an on-hold message, etc. Distribute the rules to participants before every session.
MAKE IT ENGAGING
When I was a full-time course developer, I had asked an expert in the early days of Web-based training what course designers and developers could do to help bring along the technology. He responded: “Please, PLEASE make the content engaging!” Nothing will hold your audience’s attention better than a compelling training message and worthwhile content.
The presentation materials themselves should also be as visually pleasing as possible. Consult all the guides you previously used for effective PowerPoint or similar presentation media. Effectively use text and space, and make sure graphics are clear and provide value.
As mentioned earlier, some instructor enthusiasm can be lost on an “unseen” audience, so the presentation materials themselves may have to pick up the slack.
CONSULT HELP AND FOLLOW-UP
There are dozens of guides available in print and Web formats to help your organization and its trainers effectively deliver online distance learning. Your trainers should also attend other online sessions delivered by someone else, to see from a learner’s perspective what works well and what doesn’t.
Also, always follow up with your online learners to get their feedback and input. This can be done through surveys, E-mail and/or verbal means.