There is really no limit to the usefulness of online learning and training. Human resource professionals, public and private school teachers, home educators, and professional trainers can utilize the internet and technology to reach students all over the globe. The challenge is to create a training program that is intuitive, flexible, and adequate. In order to accomplish this, it is important to understand how people interact with technology, to recognize the pitfalls of online education, and to maximize the usefulness of technology. Here are some key questions to ask as you begin this huge undertaking.
How do people interact with technology, and how does that impact the training program I am developing?
Just a few short years ago, there were only two methods of getting online. Those were the old standard desktop computer and the laptop. Also, back then, there was no Wi-Fi. This meant that users were essentially tethered to an outlet and an internet connection. Today, technology is portable; technology is dynamic. The keyboard and mouse are no longer the only options for interfacing with devices. Tablets with touch screens and smart phones allow users to stay connected no matter where they are. This means that anyone designing an online educational program must be flexible. The technology used in building the interfaces should be accessible and useful to people using a variety of devices.
Of course there is a flip side to all of this. Not everyone is fortunate enough to have access to the most modern technology. This is why a good online training program should be designed with adequate backwards compatibility. Educational software developers should contact OS providers to find out which operating systems are still being supported, and then make plans to support those as they develop their online educational software.
What are the pitfalls of online education and training, and what are the best methods for mitigating those pitfalls?
The first pitfall is a lack of accessibility to instructors. Unlike courses that are held in a brick and mortar school building, an online program is frequently accessed after hours. This can be mitigated by scheduling a certain number of hours of office time each week where students can access instructors. This can be done online or through more traditional methods.
The second pitfall is a lack of accountability. There are few checks to validate whether or not students/participants are doing the work they should be doing. The best way to remedy this is to encourage collaboration among students by having site-based discussion opportunities.
A third pitfall is not having a “tight” curriculum. Any educational/training program begins with course goals and objectives. These must be clear in your mind and clearly identified for all learners. The lesson units that follow should each have a course objective, learner-centered activities, and the requirement that these activities be completed before the learner is allowed to move forward.
How can someone maximize the use of technology in an educational/training setting?
Assuring access is a great first step. If the training program is to be sold to organizations, for example, it should be made quite clear about the technology required for access. This is the same case when a program is being marketed to individuals who will be at-home learners. The second step is to use technology that is fun and engaging for students and trainees. This will require great graphics, some color, and, certainly, interactive components.
Clearly, online education and training is the wave of the future. The “winners” in this innovative and inevitable movement will be those who carefully plan their curricula, who utilize the expertise of “masters” as they develop the delivery systems, and who remain open to frequent revisions as new technology continues to arrive.