There’s no two ways about it, right now is a great time to think about creating online learning. Whether you’re an organization that is trying to educate your staff or volunteers or a consultant attempting to reach your clients, you may be thinking about creating facilitated learning experiences in an online environment. It may also be a way to help you keep your business running in times such as these.
However, if you’ve found yourself wondering how you would even start to do such a thing, this online learning, you’re not alone. “Online learning” is a term that is both comprehensive and confusing! To help bring some clarity to the process, I thought I’d start this post series – which I’ll put up every Friday over the next four weeks on different topics related to online learning – to answer some of the questions I think you’ll have. I’ll make the posts as straightforward as I can – about a process that isn’t always so straightforward! – to give you some basic information with which to move forward.
Let’s start by exploring why you might be thinking about creating online learning. Obviously, one reason could be because the people you want to create a learning experience for are geographically distant from each other. Whether it’s because of social distancing or it’s because you are attempting to reach people scattered around the province, country or globe, creating online learning can certainly be a cost efficient alternative to face-to-face learning because of reduced travel costs. It also might be beneficial to draw a diverse participant group together, or to help larger groups of people gain access to a small number of available facilitators with unique expertise in your field. If you’re thinking about creating online learning, your first step is to get clear about why you want to create online learning and make sure that your reason is sound. “Because everyone else is doing it” is not a good reason. But there are many valid ones as well.
After you’re clear on why you want to create online learning, the next thing you’ll want to consider is what type of online learning it makes sense to create. “Online learning” is a really muddy term! It can mean synchronous online (i.e., webinars, when everyone is online and talking to each other at the same time), asynchronous online (i.e., multi-week courses when a group is moving through a course together week by week, but each person is logging in to the course at times convenient to them during the week), or e-learning (i.e., self-study, self-paced courses that individuals complete alone).
To make decisions about what type of online learning you should create, take into consideration both who your participants are and what you want them to learn. Analyze your potential learner group to determine if online learning will be a match for their technical knowledge and skills (if not currently, can you teach them?), if they have access to the proper technology (can you get it for them?), or if there are other irremovable barriers which will prevent them from being able to access the opportunity.
At the same time, think about the content of what you want participants to learn and if it makes sense to take that topic and experience into an online space. We create learning events because we want to see behaviour or knowledge change in our participants. Identifying those changes are what we call identifying learning outcomes. The learning outcomes you want your participants to achieve will help you choose if going online is suitable and, if so, what type of online learning (we sometimes also call this the “mode”) it makes sense to create. If you’re not sure what I mean by this, here’s an example: once a client asked me to create a self-study online course to help teach people communication skills. But I pushed back on this big time because self-study online courses can not help people develop communication skills. (Who would they be communicating with?) We ended up developing an asynchronous online course with embedded coaching telephone calls (which could also have been done as synchronous online meetings). So, use your process of identifying learning outcomes to help you make important decisions about if and how it makes sense to “go online”.
I’d love to know your questions about creating online learning, to help me write the next few posts in this series. My intention right now is to post about each of the three online modes next, but you tell me. What else do you want to know about around making decisions about whether to create online learning? Send your questions to firstname.lastname@example.org and I’ll answer them here as best I can.