Some educational theorists believe that learning is, at its core, a social and collaborative activity. That is, for learning to take place, it needs to be done with others. Optimally, it will involve reflection verified by group activities followed by reporting (think/pair/share).
This is why classroom training works so well. A good instructor paired with well-developed materials will get the learners not only thinking but also truly engaged in the topic. When given the opportunity to share and test their ideas with others, learners learn something at a deep level.
This highlights the challenge that self-paced, online training faces: Online training can tend toward being more of a show than an immersive learning experience. To address this challenge, instructional designers have developed many tricks to engage the learner.
Action or problem-based learning, scenarios, content revealed through a click, thought-provoking questions, and other tactics are a few strategies. Strong online content that is distilled to its bare minimum and written with an instructional designer’s finely tuned eye also helps. Combining the two is where art comes in. The result is a deep learning experience.
The fact remains, however: Self-paced training is still a single person sitting in front of a computer, alone.
Over the years, attempts have been made to change this fact. For a while, many organizations created “online learning communities” – online discussion forums or other means of connecting virtually – to give employees space to share best practices and discoveries or ask each other questions. What happened? One of two things:
1. Cialis ads flooded the forums (if un-gated and un-moderated)
2. A couple of introductory people posted and then… a resounding whimper
In other words, they built it and nobody came.
The idea is quite tempting to those of us who manage employees or lead companies. Don’t we all dream of our employees being engaged in the subject of their jobs? With the advent of online communities, this desire extended to “If we give our employees a place to explore the ideas they face on the job, perhaps those who now yawn in meetings will start coming in with ideas.”
Organizations should get an ‘A’ for effort for recognizing that learning is social and that online communities offer a virtual social opportunity. A few essential elements were missing from what they offered, however. That is:
• People do not go into an empty room just because they are told it exists. New or unique information needs to be there.
• In any new environment, at first, behavior needs to be led and modeled for others to catch on.
• Any new community cannot exist in a vacuum – it needs to be integrated into the organizational culture.
One potent force combines online communities with training. The training itself is made up of smaller, task-based “chunks,” so employees can go back to use the information as “just-in-time” training. That way, employees can obtain instruction on tasks when they need to perform them. When they face challenges the training doesn’t address, they can search the online community or ask for help.
For this type of training to be successful, proper strategies need to be implemented. Namely:
• New or unique information needs to be present in the community on a regular basis.
• The community needs a champion to monitor and encourage activity.
• Evidence of activity needs to be seen in the community on a regular basis for a prolonged period of time or people will see it as “not real.”
• The community needs support from the organization.
When a learning community takes off, it can become a powerful force for all kinds of learning to take place. Not only does training have more of an impact, but a culture of lifelong learning begins to develop. Combined together, the result is highly effective training that engages employees in a meaningful way on many levels.