Tuesday, 13 July 2010

"Online trainings not so successful" - lively debate on LinkedIn

Apparently, the log might be the most effective learning technology ever invented. Read on to find out why...

There is a discussion in the group Learning, Education and Training Professionals Group on Linkedin which appears to have taken on a life of its own. With nearly 600 posts, it represents an interesting cross section of what can be quite polarised views on the success (or otherwise) of learning technology as compared to classroom methods.

Some interesting points have been made on the way, and I've also weighed in with some views along the way. Given that you have to be on Linkedin and a member of this particular group to see it, I thought I'd share my last response to a comment posted that said:

No matter how hi-tech we are or how good the CBT/Online Training is, nothing replaces the "real time" of a live instructor who interacts with the student. The relationships fostered in the classroom training session for exceeds the few dollars saved by not contracting with a live person. In the 90's, at Lifeway Resources, we spent millions on then hi-tech video training through satellite transmission. In the end, all we did was spend millions on no training. 

In the words of a great Greek teacher, "the best classroom is me seating on one side of the log with you siting on the other exchanging ideas".

Here's my response:

One-to-one tutoring and support can be highly effective. But it doesn't scale very easily. With new technologies that enable wider interactive access to expertise it is feasible for one good teacher to effectively reach a wider audience than "one". As soon as the numbers of students rise, a teacher/trainer has to juggle attention and that leads to compromise - mainly in depersonalising the learning experience.

As a result a great deal of classroom teaching/training is simply ineffective even with a good quality instructor. Unfortunately there is a shortage of good instructors, so many students' experience is reduced to just making it through the session either in a state of boredom, confusion or anxiety. That can't be right.

With the technology now at hand to many (but by no means all) of us in the world, we can reach more people with a consistent learning experience, even if it lacks some level of personalisation. That too though is changing. A well designed CBT/e-learning experience can be highly engaging, impactful and result in behavioural change, just like a well designed face to face lesson. The key is the quality of the design, not the technology or medium used.

So, yes, it is easy to waste millions on technology when the case for deployment has failed to be made. But we waste billions on a now outdated model of education/training that is hugely inefficient, de-personalises the learning experience and results in unintended behaviour changes that are of suboptimal worth to employers and society as a whole.

We can - and should - think more deeply about how we change. As change we must if learning and development professionals (and educators for that matter) are to remain relevant in the future.

While a log would do for the Greeks centuries ago, I'd say the internet - and all the great array of interaction and collaboration it brings us - is the long overdue upgrade. Indeed the great teacher of the future might say:

"the best classroom is me sitting on one side of the blog with you sitting on the other exchanging ideas. In fact, why sit? We can exchange ideas any time, any where."

Actually, they probably wouldn't even use the word classroom at all...

What do you think?


John Zurovchak said...


Excellent rejoinder to the post extolling the virtues of the log. In particular, I loved your closing point about exchanging ideas around a blog.

I would tend to agree with you that while a one-to-one log experience has a great deal of value, it is simply not scalable. So even the log became ineffective when more than the optimal number of students (and I'm not even sure what that optimal number is) gathered around the log to hear the instruction.

As you pointed out, technology can help or hinder instruction, but there are so many more tools at our disposal today that help to address the scalability issue and to reinforce instructor interaction.

Well stated.

andy said...

Online collaborating and teaching can work, If you have trust and the right tools.
I recently tried http://www.showdocument.com - good app for uploading documents and working on them in real-time.
Most file types are supported and it needs no installation. - andya

Woody said...

Hi Lars,
Completely agree with your point that it's more about the quality of the content than the medium, and also about the scalability of face-to-face.

From experience (as creator and recipient), it's immeasurably harder to create engaging and effective online content than face-to-face. Amateur F2F content is typically more effective than professional electronic content.

If you have any freely available examples of well-constructed online content, I'd be really interested to see them. My approach as a head of Learning for a very international company has recently been to concentrate on increasing the number of trainers on one side of the log, to match the number of learners on the other.

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