Enabling Virtual Learners By Design: Introduction

Posted by Jennifer Hofmann on Apr 23, 2014 1:00:00 PM
Jennifer Hofmann

This is the first post in a series of six which examines how to enable virtual learners. 

Key_to_SuccessWe all know that the use of virtual classrooms, e-learning, and blended learning has gone beyond a trend to become an accepted and permanent part of the learning mix. It’s hard to find a subject that isn’t, in some form and at some level, taught online. Whether it’s astronomy or zoology, Arabic or Zulu, addition or…well…you see where I’m going with this. Besides being plentiful, online programs are often low-priced or sometimes even free!

This begs the question: With so much content and technology readily available, why don't people seem to be learning more? And why are so many people being forced to learn online at (metaphorical) gunpoint?

It's NOT About the Technology

One of the answers is easy to identify. Although organizations are spending money on technology, they’re rarely investing in resources that create effective learning environments. They're treating virtual training and blended learning implementations as technology initiatives rather than change initiatives.

We need to find ways to make learners feel that the investment is worthwhile. One way to accomplish this is by ensuring that some critical concepts are contemplated during the design of a program, not as an afterthought once a program has already been implemented.  

I'll be looking more closely at implementing five critical elements that set our learners up for success. When implementing, designing, and delivering virtual and blended programs, training professionals should strive to design the following elements (success factors) at the planning stages of the program. 

  1. Motivation to learn built into the program.Why do we need to be more concerned about motivating online learners than traditional learners? Because often, online learning comes with a stigma that’s totally unmotivating. Learners often feel that they’re being cheated out of an instructor, that online learning isn’t real learning, and that having to learn at their desk is more trouble than it’s worth. While going to a traditional class may have interrupted the work week, at least it gave them a change of environment—and usually there were snacks.

  2. Opportunities to collaborate. How can virtual training and blended learning be collaborative? You can create collaboration by finding ways to bring learners together in some kind of social interaction or get groups to work together to solve problems. Learners involved in these types of interactive collaborative programs feel more engaged in the process, and therefore learn more effectively. Though the solution sounds simple, implementing programs that foster real collaboration remain a hurdle for most online initiatives, primarily because new designers tend to rely on the technology to engage learners, instead of the design. 

  3. A blend of delivery methods designed to maximize the learning outcome. When it comes to designing training, one size does NOT fit all. In other words, we can't rely on just one technology to provide total treatment for a learning program. Blended learning allows us to match learning objectives to the most appropriate learning technologies.

  4. Usable technology.  Critical to a learner's success is a physical learning environment that includes usable technology, accessible support, and an area conducive to full participation during live lessons, as well as concentration/focus during self-directed activities.The proper implementation and management of technology is critical to the success of all learning initiatives. Though technology advances are one of the reasons online learning is going through such a growth spurt, it can create roadblocks that divert learners from success.

  5. Active and participative facilitators that believe in and support the blended learning experience. Adoption of educational technologies isn't just new to our learner audience, it is often a new experience for the people facilitating the process.  Ensuring that facilitators are ready to support the process will go a long way towards maximizing the return on investment of time and budget.

Bringing it all together

Creating a successful virtual learning program means more than using the latest gizmos. It means more than applying successful instructional design techniques. You need to create a solid environment which enables your learners. If you don't, the best curriculum in the world will fall flat.

Join me as I explore these fundamental but critical elements.  In the meantime, give your learners a head start by teaching them to learn online.

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Topics: Blended learning, Virtual Learners