Magazine article Training & Development

Taking the Distance out of Distance Learning

Magazine article Training & Development

Taking the Distance out of Distance Learning

Article excerpt

Here are some practical tips for making sure that the far-flung participants in your distance-learning sessions don't nod off.

Consider this scenario: You visit the local video store, rent a video, and buy a box of microwave popcorn. Back home, you pop the video into your many-featured VCR, which is hooked to a big-screen TV with surround sound. Then, you melt into the cushiony comfort of your favorite viewing spot to watch the flick. Nothing happens. So, you grab your trusty remote control and push button after button. Nothing. Next, you frantically adjust the VCR's color dial and track setting. Still nothing. All that equipment and no show. Face it: In a high-tech game, you have been dealt a low-tech hand.

It's the same in distance learning. If the production fails, participants won't be sold on the technology, much less its use for delivering training. Most production problems stem from trying to deliver distance-learning courses with the same methods used to deliver traditional training. But distance-learning delivery must make the most of its technological capabilities. In some ways, training professionals are competing with Hollywood. Most participants are sophisticated consumers used to a high-entertainment value. A distance-learning session may never equal a Spielberg movie. But with due attention to the technological and some not-so-technological - aspects of the production process, it can be an enjoyable, as well as informative, show.

Here are some tips for making sure that your distance-learning sessions are all that they can be.

Setting the tone. First, decide whether the session will be an informational briefing, a training program, or a meeting. It's important to create a setting that is suited to the type of session. (See the box, "A Quick Guide to Distance Learning.")

A relaxed setting is usually desirable. But it's not wise to rely on jokes to create rapport and group cohesion, as is often the case in traditional classroom training. A well-structured training design and thorough production [TABULAR DATA OMITTED] work are safer bets. Jokes depend on a face-to-face rapport between the joke-teller and his or her audience. You can't be sure that the intrinsic humor of the words will compensate for the lack of face-to-face contact in distance learning. Instead, try these approaches:

* Use presentation software that features moving screens, dissolving text, fade-outs, zooms, and other entertaining visuals to hold participants' interest.

* Use the 6-to-1 rule. For every hour of instruction via distance learning, spend at least six hours of planning.

* Conduct a pre-session production meeting involving all staff members, instructors, facilitators, and presenters to discuss the details. The goal is to coordinate everyone's efforts to ensure a smooth delivery.

Encouraging participation. For many reasons, participants can be reluctant to speak up, especially if they're being videotaped. They may fear that they'll look stupid or that people will criticize them. Or, they may be unsure of their opinions and don't want to be embarrassed in front of their peers. Some people may just view the technology as too impersonal. Consequently, it's important to determine how you will elicit the audience's participation, how you will lead into themes, and how you will prevent dead-air time.

Participants' concerns can be handled in several ways:

* Don't videotape the session unless it's absolutely necessary. …

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