A few months ago, I mused that online learning might be an interesting delivery strategy in the workplace, and I spent the better part of last week preparing that “pitch” for colleagues at work. I thought I’d share some of what I’ve been thinking about…
Based on the kinds of online learning that universities have been doing for years, I see online learning as a highly flexible electronic delivery mode that organizes as set of activities (primarily asynchronous if not completely self-paced) to achieve a specific set of learning objectives. It’s a way of taking the structure of formal learning (objectives defined by designer/company) with informal learning that is more self-directed. Through this mode, we can provide detailed suggestions for learning resources as well as exercises and activities to help the learners make progress. (It’s a mode that is possibly ideal for one-at-a-time new hire programs, advanced skill development, and topical overviews.)
One amazing feature of this delivery mode is just how flexible it can be.
Who is the instructor? There are a lot of possibilities for online facilitation, including having no official instructor at all. Instructors/faciltiators could be drawn from among full-time trainers, a select group of business leaders, or designated subject matter experts. Facilitators could work individually or in teams. You might even set up a course where the learner is expected to draft a senior colleague or supervisor as his or her learning facilitator or coach through the process (and you can provide detailed roles and responsibilities for that individual to follow). Or you can set up social networks wherein learners are teaching and supporting each other.
How large is the group? You can design a program to be followed individually, in small groups, or in cohort classes. (Or you can design it to be workable for one person or many.)
In what medium should the course be delivered? You can aggregate and enable a set of materials and activities through any of a wide variety of tools – a learning management system, web page, wiki, social networking site (e.g. Ning) – or through links embedded in more mundane documents like PowerPoint or Word. Learning components can be e-learning, or wiki sites, or discussion boards, or web links, or even text books (how novel!). Instructors can work exclusively through electronic medium, or occasionally live (occasional class sessions or webinars, or one-on-one meetings).
How should the course be scheduled? Your online course could be held in a defined period of time with required completion dates for activities, much like an academic course. Or the schedule could be driven by independent learners. It can be designed to be completed in a few hours, or a few weeks, or a few months depending on the complexity of the content and the time allocated by the learners.
Is there any validation of learning? You can offer knowledge tests, or provide some behaviorally anchored demonstration of competence to validate learning. You can let learners assess whether the course met their needs. You can offer some sort of credit for completion. Or you can do some combination of the above, or none of the above.
How much opportunity is there to interact with other learners or with facilitators? You can design required touchpoints as frequently as you like. You can design ways for learners to interact with one another, either live (a learning partner) or online (a discussion board). You can create assignments that encourage learners to talk to people not involved in the course (e.g. interview an expert, ask for feedback from a peer).
I suppose you have a lot of the same flexibility in designing a more traditional course in a classroom or e-learning mode. But online learning seems so infinitely variable. As I think about it more, I’m finding the possibilities very exciting!! The research has given me some additional ideas for my academic online learning courses, which I have designed rather traditionally up to this point.
Wish me luck with my “pitch.” 🙂