What I’ve Learned about Online Training

By: James Reyes-Picknell

The isolation and distancing measures being imposed due to the Corona Virus pandemic have been a game-changer in our business and personally. In the process of shifting training content to online formats, I’ve learned a lot. My conclusion is that online training isn’t just an alternative to the “real thing”, it can actually be a better experience.

I have delivered a lot of “live” training courses to adult audiences in a classroom setting, usually at customer locations and anywhere in the world. The online format is different, constraining, and less rich in some ways, more flexible and even richer in others.

Here are a few things I’ve learned about it:

You can’t just take your old content, do a voice-over, and then call it online training.
Face to face classes can last upwards of 1.5 to 2 hours. Online, that is challenging to sit through, so the lessons need to be divided up into smaller chunks.

In dividing the materials up, I realized that the focus on a single topic per lesson had great potential to enhance the learning. Whilst total “lecture” time and topics covered may be nearly the same overall, the greater focus per topic makes the material a bit easier to absorb.

You can’t rely on classroom exercises.
Group exercises in class may not translate well online. Generating discussion among students may also be next to impossible because everyone is potentially working at different times and at different paces.

Removing the time for those discussions, and any other classroom exercises (we used to do a classroom plant maintenance simulation) shortens the class time but removes some of the learning opportunity.

There are more options that can replace that lost classroom group learning.
Most face-to-face courses don’t have any sort of quiz or even exam at the end. Each lesson is now shorter than before so there’s room for a brief quiz.

Quiz options (multiple-choice, single choice, matching, image matching, text, etc.) provide a lot of flexibility in how the quiz is structured. Since the quizzes are all new (i.e.: they were not part of the old content), a lot of thinking goes into the questions, how best to ask them, and into what points in the lesson will be emphasized. I believe these short quizzes enhance learning considerably.

Assignments (homework).
Online assignments can be effective if they build on each other as the lessons progress. If the student does them they will not only get some practice, they can actually get usable results for post-class application.

In one case I’ve got successive assignments building up over 9 lessons. They are required to be submitted as a “capstone” assignment at the end. If they did all the assignments as the course progressed, then the submission is not much more than a matter of uploading what you’ve done. If they haven’t done the work, then they have a big job ahead of them if they want to pass the course.

The recording of the lessons wasn’t as bad as I had expected.
When teaching live in front of a class my passion for the subject matter and emotion comes across. I was very concerned that sitting in front of a computer and talking to a camera would turn out to be pretty boring, both for recording and watching. Because I kept the lessons short, it wasn’t hard to maintain energy during the recording. After a few failed takes and getting the hang of using a bit of hand gesture and facial expression the results are pretty good. It’s not the same as live, but it turned out better than I had expected it might.

Lots of materials to distribute.
In a face-to-face class, I tend to refer to other books, documents, standards, methods, and more.  Online, it’s now possible to include all those with the course materials, provided they are available in electronic format to begin with. Various articles and papers, a spreadsheet version of what I used to describe, and even links to websites selling books I’ve recommended, are all now readily available. Class presentation slides can be watermarked and saved in PDF format for handout (download) purposes.

You can produce a useful result, not just learning.
Face-to-face courses are always time-limited. You just cannot get the full learning experience squeezed into a classroom setting.

Schools and universities use assignments and projects to build on what is taught in class, and to get the students to experience it in real life – at least a bit. Industrial training on-site doesn’t do that. But online it can be done. Lessons can have assignments, they can build on each other and be submitted for marking as a final project. More-over, those assignments don’t need to be limited to just a few sample lines of work – you can insist on the whole enchilada. Keep in mind that assignments must be reviewed and marked, so each assignment is potentially more work for you, the instructor. 

It’s cheaper.
Online training can be priced lower than face-to-face training. Even though the content is comparable and there’s a lot more that you can offer, you don’t have the travel and logistical costs to consider. Flights to the remote location, or flights from the customer to your classroom, hotels, meals, ground transport, and other costs associated with travel are all avoided.

It’s available when and wherever you are.
Unlike anything live, face-to-face or virtual, online courses are available 24/7, so long as you have a decent internet connection. You choose your own training time and you can be anywhere – office, home, coffee shop, etc. The training can easily fit your lifestyle, not the other way around.

The bad – no cookies and dried out sandwiches for lunch.
Dinner options are just as varied on the road and at home, so no difference there. No security lines at airports, or lonely nights away from home, no parking hassles at the training venue are required. Normally, I would have traveled to my customers, so those are not going to be missed! For the students, there’s no need to really disrupt your lifestyle at all. It’s win-win.


About the Author

James Reyes-Picknell is the Principal Consultant and Co-Founder of Conscious Asset. He specializes in the management of asset, maintenance and reliability, leading process improvement efforts and delivering much of the organization’s training. He is a Professional Engineer, Certified Management Consultant, and Certified Asset Management Assessor.

James has co-authored “Reliability Centered Maintenance – Re-engineered: Practical Optimization of the RCM Process with RCM-R®“, in 2017. And he is the best-selling author of “Uptime – Strategies for Excellence in Maintenance Management“, 2015, several other books and many published articles in a variety of magazines. James is a teacher, trainer, speaker and management consultant who focuses on finding hidden value in his client' operations.

To learn more, visit: https://consciousasset.com/


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