Moving to online delivery

Using e-content to deliver learning online is here to stay. Some of the most disruptive examples to traditional facilitator led delivery include the Khan Academy where many professionally created courses are offered for free & massive open online courses

Using e-content to deliver learning online is here to stay. Some of the most disruptive examples to traditional facilitator led delivery include the Khan Academy where many professionally created courses are offered for free and "massive open online courses" or MOOCs from ivy league universities like Harvard and MIT where, although facilitator led, the experience is mostly non-interactive. The effect on interactive facilitator led training organisations is two fold:

1) pressure to be price competitive
2) expectations of 'anytime anywhere' delivery and
3) need to demonstrate why a premium should be paid for facilitator delivery.

If another course format can deliver the same learning outcomes as a facilitator led event at a fraction of the cost why should individuals or organisations invest in interactive facilitator led training?  As rule of thumb if a competitor can offer a service to deliver the same outcome but 25% cheaper, quality and experience is seldom sufficient to sway the purchaser. Most non-interactive courses are substantially cheaper than the facilitator led equivalent.

Neither pure e-content online training nor interactive facilitator led training is suitable for everyone, the major inhibitors are suitability of the format, constraints on scheduling or limited locations. Availability is also a pressure: while time is allocated to participants to attend interactive facilitator led training courses often no time is allocated for non-interactive online courses, saving the organisation in down-time. The expectation is that on-demand, online courses should be completed on the job, literally while students do their day job. Self starters prefer to arrange their study around existing work and life commitments. Will these costs and changes precipitate the organisation expecting that the learner, rather than delivery mode should be adaptable?

The two sides and the happy medium
Responses by training organisations to pure e-content non-interactive delivery is usually between the extreme of two options: The first side is convinced that facilitated learning is a superior, higher quality, learner experience. More likely there are underlying, practical reasons such as not having skills to create online content. The other side predicts the death of the facilitated delivery mode of training, certain that trainers will be relegated to webinars or MOOC-style delivery where only the best, cheapest or most famous survive. They are also convinced that by using metrics non-interactive e-learning can improve to be equal and better to interactive facilitator-led delivery.

Training events for networking
Some things will never substituted by attending an interactive event however: The social interactivity. The event becomes a networking occasion, an essential part of the experience of learning and in the case of vocational training, a way to extend career opportunities through business relationships. So non-interactive training companies need to demonstrate how they can offer interactivity while facilitator led training companies need to promote the business networking aspect of their courses.

Training events for learning engagement
When addressing disruptive technology the middle ground offers the most flexibility, courses where the unique value of a trainer; inspirational, entertaining, expert knowledge or in-the-trenches experience is combined with online content for the more mundane aspects of learning that can be conveyed as (or more) effectively online compared to a lecture style event. Where a course has both a facilitated portion and online learning component the term 'blended' learning environment is used, and may or may not use computers in the classroom.

First step - make the business case
Moving to a new mode of training delivery means making decisions about long term strategy, customer demands and/or profitability. Some organisations find that without online or e-learning options they are excluded from tender opportunities or they lose out to competitors. Other benefits that can be gleaned is competitive advantage in a market that has not yet adopted to delivery of e-content. Another product  to talk to customers about, and exploring markets beyond your traditional area (offering sales in another state or country). As you are looking at a return on investment remember to take baseline measurements now so you can track progress.

The resources required to deliver a new training format includes financial and time investment, and access to experts, perhaps even changing the way your business operates, perhaps needing to reapplying for accreditations. This type of change can have a dramatic effect on your business. Factor in a dip in profitability as the business catches up with the new way of working.

Second step - planning your move to the new delivery
There is inevitably a learning curve for training managers and facilitators as the technology and possibilities slowly become apparent. Learning from others is always a good first step, see how your competitors are doing it. Go outside your geographical range and look at training companies abroad, seek out best-of-breed. Talk to your customers about their experiences, involve them in a trial or proof-of-concept to ensure your offering will be accepted by the market. Here are some ideas:

  • Introduce or move existing pre-course work online, causing less disruption to classroom learning

  • Incorporate 'extra exercises' so that it does not interrupt but complements your existing training experience

  • Offer a new course, to run along side existing unchanged courses to see what the uptake is for the new format.

  • Do a 'freemium' offer, where people get a free taster using your website, phone or ipod application or provide a helpful PDF file..

Third step - review use and seek to maximise return on investment

Most online learning platforms give excellent vantage points from which to evaluate how many use the content and in some cases who, when and for how long.  Use these profiles to find out how people are using your offering. Ask questions like when do they use it, what do they choose to do, how far do they get through the material? Are there technical reasons why some don't use the system?

Consider also if the online learning is replacing existing facilitator-led delivery, or complementing it. Perhaps more frequent communication to remind students of their online learning tasks might improve use and learning outcomes? If you get data showing that increased use leads to better outcomes share it with students.

Forth step - measure success

Perhaps indicated by a contract won, or increase in registrations, or ultimately an increased profit margin with equal or more deliveries. Just like regular course materials it will be necessary to provision money for updates, as online content needs to be maintained and kept fresh like any other course material.

Further reading

http://www.economist.com/blogs/babbage/2010/09/online_learning

http://ocw.mit.edu - makes the materials used in the teaching of MIT's subjects available on the Web.

https://www.khanacademy.org - provide a free, world-class education for anyone, anywhere. All of our resources are completely free forever, regardless of whether you're a student, teacher, home-schooler, principal, adult returning to the classroom after 20 years, or a friendly alien just trying to get a leg up in earthly biology.

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