Delivering eLearning in a classroom-like online setting can have one main challenge: Obtaining participation and interactivity. In other words, presentation apps can make it all too easy to simply design and deliver online lectures. Sometimes, the software itself makes no provision for live interaction, collaboration, or problem-solving. Adding a 10-question multiple-choice quiz at the end does not make a presentation interactive. Can eLearning do a better job when it comes to facilitating actual learning? Here are some tips.
Begin your design process with online synchronous learning in mind
The first step is to identify the outcomes desired. In building a solution for learning, the designer is free to combine asynchronous and synchronous approaches as needed to meet the learning objectives. Choices are based on three factors:
- The learners and their learning needs
- The type of content
- The time availability of the learners
Communicate early with stakeholders and participants. Find out what the participants want and need to learn. Find out what the stakeholders see as necessary outcomes in terms of skills on the job.
“Frontload” foundational asynchronous activities so that predictable skill needs (how to use the synchronous learning technology) are covered before the immersive work (collaboration, problem-solving) is started. This prevents loss of time due to participants not knowing how to use the software technology.
Get managers to let participants know how they are expected to apply what they learn on the job.
Options for learning
Learners may be assigned to one or more “virtual classrooms” or “breakout rooms.” Once the designer knows the outcomes, it is possible to develop scripts and storyboards and combine them into a plan that has a flow.
In such a flow presented in a simulated virtual environment, there are many options for learning. These may include live classroom discussions and collaborative activity. An instructor or resource expert can explain, show, and give immediate feedback in microlearning form as needed to support learning. The group can engage in facilitated online discussion, sharing, and team building. The technologies available include using conferencing software, shared whiteboards, games, live streaming, and other flexible methods led by an instructor or by learners themselves.
Participants who do not know how to use the synchronous software, who lack the skills to participate, or who are simply “shy” for whatever reason, tend to disappear. If a group contains too many participants, engagement will also disappear. If a group contains too many participants, make more, smaller groups. Call on participants to respond.
Each group or subgroup should have only one outcome assigned based on what you learned in your preplanning. Consider assigning participants to groups or subgroups based on similar concerns.
Prepare and use short explainer videos to deliver predictable content needs, to be followed by discussion. An alternative could be to prepare and present short case studies or simulations for discussion afterward.
Don’t shoot from the hip!
Effective synchronous learning begins with effective planning, otherwise the outcome may simply be an extemporized boring lecture. That is not an effective way to approach learning. Synchronous learning requires as much planning and preparation as any other approach to learning, and it is far more enjoyable for instructors and participants.