It seems like we get less and less of our learners’ attention and time these days.
I fondly remember the good old days when learners were allowed to leave their offices and attend a five- to 10-day class. Now we’re lucky if we get them for a lunch and learn. Yet we’re expected to teach more with less and have a greater effect on true performance.
Learning leaders have been asked to be more creative than ever when addressing the shrinking resource of time. The good news is we are more equipped than ever with tools and technologies to help us reach our learners in very powerful and effective ways. The key will be how well we use these options as we transition from a mostly classroom- and e-learning-based model to one delivered via distance and in the context of work.
Enter distance learning. The exciting part about these new technologies is that, when done well, they can be anything but distancing. Some best practices show they can be more powerful than the classroom we’ve fought so hard to hang on to. But the change will not come easy and without considering a few important factors. For instance:
Don’t call these virtual classrooms. We make this mistake all the time. We name a new learning convention based on a similar but actually very different modality. That’s the case here. I’ve always understood the desire to call virtual instruction classrooms since it does involve synchronous learning experiences with a start and end time, but that’s where the similarities end.
We’ve all been attending classrooms for most of our lives. We know the richness that environment brings, the degree of interaction and the role of the instructor. When instruction goes virtual many of those variables exist, but they are experienced in a very different way. Learners can’t help but come to their first virtual experience expecting all that the classroom brings if you’ve branded it as such.
Take advantage of distance learning’s greatest strength: time. There is a large amount of research to support the power of spaced learning and practice — two variables which are getting harder to do in a traditional classroom. One of the biggest advantages of virtual and distance instruction is you typically can’t keep employees in these environments for more than two hours at a time. This forces you to spread the instructor-driven experience out over time. Don’t view this time as a break, but rather invaluable time when a learner can expand and apply the knowledge learned during instruction. Assign applicable work and additional learning to be done between sessions. Also, build in feedback sessions with the instructor, peers or managers where learners begin to apply all that they’ve learned.
Redefine what gathering means. If the learner uses the time between lessons to reinforce, apply and expand their understanding, why don’t we use the precious time with an instructor to do more than rattle through PowerPoints and watch examples? Many have heard of the work being done with “flipping classrooms” — a model where knowledge gathering is done outside of class, and class time is used for discussion, practice, problem-solving and creative thinking. Virtual and distance instruction is a great way to incorporate this model and maximize the real-world knowledge the instructor and learners bring to this experience. It’s also a great way to bring experts into the discussion who wouldn’t otherwise be able to attend the class.
Use performance support to pull it all together and to achieve true business results. Since so much time is spent outside of class, what better time to teach learners to apply and stand self-reliant beyond the instruction? Bring performance support into the overall experience as the tie that binds the instructional content to workplace performance both during the class and, more importantly, beyond.
Distance learning doesn’t have to be distancing. It can be more powerful than the classroom if it’s done well, positioned correctly and supported. With less time do to more and business pressures to drive performance at levels never seen before, we need to become better at modalities beyond the classroom and e-learning.
Bob Mosher is a senior partner and chief learning evangelist for APPLY Synergies, a strategic consulting firm. He can be reached at editor@CLOmedia.com.Filed under: Learning Delivery