Myths and Realities of Online Training

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onlineEven after many years of online training in business, industry, and academia, there remain many myths concerning this method of delivery.

Online training is impersonal. Online training can be made personal. The leader can post his profile, engage in discussions with the participants, and be available through video, chat, or email. Try using the coffee shop method by creating an informal virtual gathering place to share noncourse-related areas of interest.

There is no interaction with the facilitator or other participants. The myth that online training is limited to the learner and her interaction with the computer does not make the distinction between e-learning and online learning. The design of an online course can include team projects and meetings using virtual breakout rooms, individual documents can be shared with team members, and threaded discussions allow for easy sharing of ideas. The facilitator can also engage in any of these participant interactions. Remember, as with any training, the quality of the interaction is dependent on the background and preparation of the participants and facilitator. There can be significant and robust participant interaction.

Learners don't participate. In reality, there may be more participation because the fear of speaking in front of others is removed. The virtual classroom creates a safe environment where social and cultural barriers are diminished and it is easier to share ideas and experiences. Because participants lose their inhibitions, they become more freely engaged in virtual discussions and are held accountable for their interactions.

Online training does not provide the opportunity for team projects. Working in groups in a virtual environment is more challenging. However, teams can have virtual breakout rooms that are available 24/7. In addition, virtual meetings allow team members to be better prepared and more focused because they help alleviate schedule and time-zone issues. Completed projects can be presented to all participants using team presentations.

The course facilitator will not be accessible. Many facilitators set up several office hour blocks each day. This is time dedicated to the course participants. Facilitators also engage in the threaded discussions and discussion boards, and provide timely feedback on any submitted work. Participants can also contact them using email, video chat, and other methods.

Online training takes less participant time. Generally, online training will take as much or maybe more time than classroom training. Depending on the type of online learning, the participant may have to do more individual assimilation of the material and engage with other participants. However, there is no commuting, which saves time. An added benefit is the flexibility of scheduling much of the online work.

Online training does not provide for learning evaluation. Level 1 and 2 evaluations can easily be incorporated into online training. The usual Level 1 through end-of-course survey can be used and quickly tabulated. Level 2 evaluations can use online knowledge tests, projects, and case studies. Application exercises that provide feedback for transfer can be built into the program. On-the-job use can be assessed through surveys and interviews or focus groups, which all use online technology. Based on the metric identified, facilitators should be able to analyze the impact and return-on-investment. So, if the evaluation plan is designed into the training program, much like the face-to-face classroom, online training can be evaluated.

Online training is fundamentally different. Traditional and online training have many of the same design elements (objectives, instructional strategies, team and individual work, macro-design), use media, and have a defined meeting place where participants engage the facilitator and other participants (virtual or face-to-face classroom).

All online training is the same. The differences between online training, webinars, e-learning, webcasts, and virtual classrooms speak to the amount of interaction between the facilitator and participants, and whether the intent is to share knowledge or improve performance.

Online training is less demanding or complete. Any online training has the same performance expectations and contains the same requirements and assignments as a face-to-face seminar or workshop.

Online training is too disorganized. Online courses should not be hard to follow. A well-designed online course has:

  • goals and learning objectives
  • a course map with easy navigation
  • individual modules with distinct requirements and specific instructions, access, or embedded materials
  • submission deadlines with easy methods to submit the work.

When designed properly, online courses can actually be more organized than some face-to-face seminars and workshops. There is no getting off point, time-management issues aren't as common, and difficult participants aren't as disruptive.

Anyone can take an online training course and be successful. Completing an online training course requires discipline, self-management, and self-direction, as well as the ability to function with more autonomy and a willingness to ask for help from other participants or the facilitator. Learners must be active, taking responsibility for their own learning.

It is easier to cheat. It is possible that the person completing the projects or taking the assessments may not be the individual enrolled in the course. This does pose a dilemma, but here are some possible solutions:

  • Require a manager to sign off on a project.
  • Use item analysis of objective tests to help uncover collaboration.
  • Check for plagiarism using the available software.
  • Ask participants to sign an honesty policy.

Note: This article is excerpted from Facilitation Basics, 2nd edition by Donald V. McCain.

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