Making the right digital and distance learning choices – now and in the future

Considerations for virtual and digital training

Once Covid is behind us, will the world of learning and training return to the way it was a few weeks ago, or will the current constraints we are having to work under have fast-tracked us to a digital world?

Along with many other things, we all know that there is a trend away from classroom trainer-led training towards digital solutions. With the current Coronavirus pandemic many businesses across the world have had to make the jump overnight towards 100% digital training – the alternative being no training at all.

With all of this in mind, I thought it would be helpful to share my thoughts about the areas you need to consider for digital training & learning either to convert current training in your business or when creating a new training solution.


Distance learning is here to stay

For some of you, it may feel a bit daunting to start off with, but bear in mind, remote – or “distance learning”, as it’s sometimes called – is far from new. The Open University was established in 1969 and for decades has meant that undergraduate and postgraduate students were able to learn from anywhere in the world.

What is new and constantly evolving, however, is the technology that supports remote learning – making it more fun, interactive and adding variety along the way.

It is also worth recognising that, when you think about it, we are all already used to “learning” remotely, whether that be searching YouTube for a video on a car repair, Wikipedia for historical facts and figures, or using Google to search for the “best chocolate brownie recipe”.

Below are some areas that you should be considering:

  • In the immediate term so that you can continue to deliver training whilst your colleagues work remotely
  • In the longer term if you are creating a learning strategy that puts more emphasis on digital and distance learning

Remote trainer-led sessions

All of your face-to-face courses and workshops can be run remotely. At First Friday we have worked this way for many years and have successfully continued to deliver all our planned classroom courses by converting them into digital versions since the onset of Coronavirus and the restrictions this imposed.

You need to three fundamental things; choose the right tool for your needs, review your materials and adjust any delegate exercises using physical props and most importantly cut each section down to create smaller bite-sized chunks of learning.

Using digital tools such as Teams, Skype and Zoom

These tools allow you to very quickly deliver your existing classroom trainer-led courses from a remote location to delegates anywhere in the world.

You can:

  • Share slides, screens and videos
  • Interact with delegates using audio and video
  • Answer and ask questions using a chat facility
  • Record sessions for distribution

It is fundamental that you choose the right tool for your needs and cut content down in to smaller bite-sized chunks of learning

Virtual Classroom software

Alternatively, there are several virtual classroom software tools available on the market which are designed specifically for the development and delivery of training and have more advanced features than digital tools like Teams.

They have all the benefits of the tools already mentioned, but in addition, they enable the use of training techniques that are typical of classroom training such as:

  • Digital whiteboards for trainers and delegates use
  • Digital breakout rooms to encourage small group working
  • Functionality for delegates to raise their hand to ask a question rather than just start talking
  • Notes and chat sessions to capture questions, comments and car park actions
  • Built-in digital quizzes

You should choose this method of trainer-led delivery where a richer delegate experience is important for the learning of the new skills, where the ability to work in smaller groups leads to improved results and the opportunity to try out new skills in a practice environment is important. A good example is systems training or conceptual skills.

eLearning

You might be considering converting existing classroom courses into eLearning or you might have a new training requirement.

Most businesses are familiar with eLearning. However, many may still imagine the somewhat dry looking screens of old, which are simply read and then clicked to move on, when the reality today is there has never been such a wide choice of types of eLearning.

As a result of this, they may also feel that eLearning is only useful for linear or instructive content which the delegate can follow readily by themselves, and again this is no longer the case.

Traditional eLearning still has its place – it is simple, straightforward and effective.

However the design tools have evolved and now there is more scope to pull together varied activities and formats into one lesson such as video, interactive eLearning, systems simulations, quizzes and augmented reality – which make the end result so much more varied and interesting.

These tools offer a richer learning experience, which is more engaging, feels more personal and retains the human side of learning.

eLearning has evolved and can include; video, interactive eLearning, systems simulations, quizzes and augmented reality

So, how do you choose which type is right for you?

  • The nature of the content – for example, process training vs behavioural skills
  • The audience – would they benefit from a richer experience more akin to their personal lives on YouTube and social media, or are simple, clear and linear concepts best for them?
  • The access – what devices and equipment will your business and the delegates use? Are there any sensitivities around information being accessed from home?
  • The design and development approach – how quickly do you need to develop and roll out the final content? Enhanced tools require more design and development skills – do you have these skills in-house?

Self-directed learning

As efficient and effective as digital learning can be, it often lacks the opportunity to be engaged through learning in a wider context than the digital content session itself.

You can overcome this by giving delegates pre and post self-directed learning which encourages them to share thoughts and opinions with each other and become familiar with new concepts and new ways of working.

This better prepares them to apply new learning when on-the-job.

Formats that work well as self-directed learning include eLearning, videos, blogs, podcasts, PDFs and web resources.

Learning Experience Platforms (LXP)

Learning Experience Platforms (LXP) are relatively new. They focus on delivering personalised learning journeys and experience – one that goes beyond the traditional Learning Management System (LMS).

In contrast to an LMS, an LXP typically functions as a curation and content aggregation tool for an organisation’s internal digital learning, external content available on the internet and user-generated content (UGC). And it can easily sit alongside your existing LMS and complement it.

An LXP will encourage, enable and strengthen the impact of self-directed learning by making the learning both social and gamified; two key components of how we use technology in our day-to-day lives.

LXPs provide unified learning experiences combining a blend of learning from various sources.

The best-in-class tools evolve and generate personalised learning paths according to the interaction generated by the learner, rather than instructing them on what they should do next. They also have social and collaborative learning at their heart which further supports the personalised journey.

They employ search, track and analytics algorithms and can make use of a wide range of rich and diverse content – some are being coined ‘the Netflix of learning’.

Make it social by encouraging peer comments, feedback, questions and sharing

5 Secrets to effective digital learning

In summary, there are a few secrets to success that make for effective digital learning:

  1. Keep the content concise and break it down into clear chunks and small time frames
  2. Embed frequent knowledge checks into the learning. (We must remember that individuals learn differently, some prefer listening, some seeing and some doing; many combine all three so where possible we should incorporate opportunities to practice and try out new skills)
  3. Make it social by encouraging peer comments, feedback, questions and sharing
  4. Where possible and relevant create learning journeys for your learners
  5. Encourage engagement and completion by using gamification (This might take the form of knowledge tests pass through gateways to the next level of learning, leader boards to improve engagement by creating competition, earning experience points and being awarded skill badges)

The black swan that changes everything

In this article, I have highlighted the many benefits and flexibility remote learning offers. Perhaps the current uncertain times will act as a catalyst in the shift towards digital learning, providing an opportunity to embed it as a new learning norm and encouraging those people who still assume training has to be face-to-face to move forwards and embrace something new.

Whilst it may be the current situation that is the trigger that influences us all to make this change, we are also increasingly aware that things could be this way for many months to come.

How wonderful it would be that we all look back with hindsight and reflect that today’s challenges brought about a new and permanent change for tomorrow, and for the better..?

I think Goldie Blumenstyk sums it up perfectly when she said recently in an article for The Chronicle of Higher Education that the Coronavirus could be a “black swan” moment for the education industry.

Blumenstyk argues it could be “more of a catalyst for online education and other ed-tech tools than decades of punditry and self-serving corporate exhortations.” She continued, “It seems safe to say that this will be not only enormously disruptive but also paradigm-changing. The ‘black swan,’ that unforeseen event that changes everything, is upon us.

If you’re yet to embrace digital learning – or are looking for a new partner – we’re here to help. Find out more about our Training & Development services, or get in touch to speak with one of our eLearning experts.

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Robin Turner

About the author: Robin Turner

The Managing Director of First Friday. Robin set up our UK-based consulting, change management and training business in 2001 and has built up a portfolio of 100+ clients worldwide, working with and supporting some of the world’s biggest brands.

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