Training Via Distance Learning

By Thach, Elizabeth C.; Murphy, Karen L. | Training & Development, December 1995 | Go to article overview

Training Via Distance Learning


Thach, Elizabeth C., Murphy, Karen L., Training & Development


The good news is that you can use traditional training approaches in high-tech distance learning. But you have to match the approach with the technology. Here's how.

Distance learning is a fast-growing area of training. It's a cost-effective way to deliver training to people in different locations and to employees who aren't available or don't have time for traditional classroom training - for example, telecommuters and temporary and contract workers. Nowadays, it's sometimes necessary to bring the learning to the workers.

But how do you ensure that you're using the most effective training technologies and approaches in distance learning? Perhaps you've heard horror stories about Company X investing millions of dollars in a satellite system, only for participants to fall asleep during the broadcasts. The key is to match the particular approach with the appropriate technology.

First, it's important to define distance learning. In his book Understanding Distance Education: A Framework for the Future, D.R. Garrison offers three criteria:

* The communication between the trainer and participants is separated by a geographical distance.

* The communication is two-way and interactive.

* The technology is used to facilitate learning.

Those criteria help differentiate among distance learning, self-study, and learning through electronic performance-support systems. People can use a self-paced, computer-based training program or EPSS to gain knowledge and skills. But unless they use such a system with another form of technology to create two-way communication between themselves and the trainer, it's not distance learning.

The question is this: Which technologies should they use?

A two-way street

Distance learning can incorporate almost any kind of technology as long as it creates two-way communication. Trainer and participants must be able to interact with each other in a structured way.

Generally, distance-learning technologies are categorized as interactive or noninteractive. (See the box on page 46.)

Interactive technologies contain a built-in channel for two-way communication. Examples include videoconferencing, audioconferencing, two-way satellite transmission, and on-line computer conferencing through such e-mail providers as the Internet and various commercial on-line services.

Noninteractive technologies offer only one-way communication. Examples include printed materials, videotapes, one-way satellite transmission, and cable television. You can create a distance-learning environment by combining a noninteractive technology with an interactive one or with a phone or fax machine.

A common trap is falling in love with a particular technology that may not be appropriate for the specific training goals or approaches.

With any kind of training, you define the learning objectives first. Next, you select the appropriate training approaches for meeting those objectives. Then you choose the delivery methods.

Setting the goals. It's important to determine whether the learning objectives are cognitive, attitudinal, or performance-based.

* Cognitive objectives are about conveying information, concepts, and principles. They involve thinking skills.

* Attitudinal objectives have to do with people's values and beliefs.

* Performance-based objectives imply that learners have to do something, such as soldering a piece of metal, using a checklist, or demonstrating negotiation skills.

Distance learning has proved effective for meeting cognitive and attitudinal objectives, but it is not especially effective for meeting performance-based objectives. One reason is that it's difficult for a trainer to observe the performance of learners who are miles away.

Matching goals with approaches. The different types of objectives - cognitive, attitudinal, and performance-based - require different training approaches. …

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