One gap arises from the passive training approach taken by current-generation capabilities. Whereas today’s online classrooms focus on “learning by viewing,” next-generation live learning focuses on “learning by doing.” By actively engaging in course activities throughout the session, learners experience a heightened sense of fulfillment with next-generation learning systems. Instructors benefit, too, by being able to engage learners in more interactive, dynamic sessions.
Today’s online classrooms also impose a limited, one-to-many mode of delivering training (one instructor to many learners), where the role of the instructor is rigidly assigned to a single individual. Next-generation live learning systems provide a many-to-many mode of delivering training, where possibly many instructors instruct many learners and where roles can be changed dynamically. This mimics a common classroom circumstance where one or more students change roles and become instructors in order to convey information to the class, such as a summary of their breakout session.
Let us examine how the next generation of live learning may create a multi-way, active, dynamic, “learning by doing” environment with more emphasis on the learners and learning process.
The Next Generation of Live Learning
There is one simple formula in the next generation of live learning: the learner. What will a learner do in the online classroom? How will the learner proactively participate? How will the learner react? How will the learner stay engaged? How will the learner get a hands-on experience and really learn by doing, by interacting and even by role-playing? How will the learner communicate with fellow learners? How will the learner communicate with the instructor? Above all, how well will the learners learn in the online classroom so that they will excel and even look forward to their next live learning session? And finally, can the learning continue beyond the live learning?
The next generation of live learning should focus on the learner. Very simply, the goal of next-generation live learning is to create the most compelling experience for the learner. And if the learners are enjoying the experience and learning, so will the instructors.
Keep It Simple
It is very easy for a vendor to get caught up in the competitive-features game and add lots of bells and whistles to its online classroom offerings. What the vendor ends up with is a system that is utterly complex for instructors to comprehend and worse yet, downright scary for learners. Very soon the vendors will have to offer courses for instructors, and maybe even for learners, so they can learn the online classroom solution. It kind of defeats the purpose if instructors and learners need to be trained to use the online classroom.
The next-generation online classroom should strive to keep things as simple as possible for the learners. If the designers make the base assumption that these learners have never participated in a live learning session and are averse to technology, perhaps they can come up with a system that anyone can understand intuitively and use. This is not to say that the more advanced learner cannot use the additional powers of the classroom and maximize their learning experience through personalized interfaces, but that for the layman, the classroom should be as simple as using an Internet browser.
How do you simplify the experience? Talk to learners of all types and experience. They will tell you that what really matters is that they can see what the instructor is doing and that they can ask a question when needed. Everything else is overload. Vendors need to break away from their original designs and design something really simple for the learners. Of course, the instructors can have all the functionality they need to deliver a compelling classroom, but for the learners, the more the technology stays behind the curtain, the better it gets.
Learning by Doing
Learning must engage the learners and make them participate. How do you really do this? By adding functionality that matters to the learner and by adding lots of hands-on learning tools. For instance, if the instructor is going to train the learners on how to use a software application, the next-generation classroom must contain hands-on labs that allow the learners to train on these applications on their own. Of course, this should be accomplished in a very simple way. At the flip of a switch, the learners can be dropped into a hands-on environment where they can begin working on the software applications as if they were launched from their own computer. The instructors can look over the learners’ shoulders and jump into any of these hands-on sessions. The classroom vendors can expand this hands-on learning experience further by providing split-screen training, where the computer screen gets divided in half or with tabs. On one side the learner is seeing what the instructor is doing, on the other side, the learner is working on the application in parallel. This is the truest form of hands-on learning. If the learners are able to complete this kind of live hands-on exercise on their own, the need for a test or poll to test their knowledge is suddenly overrated. Another example is learning by role-playing. The next-generation system can provide an environment where the learner is asked to go through several what-if scenarios as if they were actually in the middle of the real-world business. Perhaps a co-instructor can also guide them through this role-playing exercise. Again, the learner is in control and engaged. Finally, the inclusion of scenario-based gaming and simulations can add a new dimension to hands-on learning. Gaming stimulates the learner’s interest and creates a challenging situation. In each of these activities, the learner is truly engaged. The learner is learning by doing.
Breakouts Made Simple
The goals of next-generation live learning include keeping the learners engaged and keeping it simple. Breakouts add a real value to an online classroom, but you must keep it simple. The trick is to not change the current interface and take them to a new place and bring them back—the trick is to keep them here. Breakouts should happen within the main session, as opposed to outside. This means that at the flip of a switch, the main session gets transposed into smaller breakouts with various members. Learners still have access to the main session by simply going one level up (as if browsing a file directory). This way, learners stay within the familiar confines of the simple interface they are used to, and breakouts really become extensions of the main session. And as for voice, again, it is simply controlled automatically as you move from main session to breakout session and back. The learners do not need to do anything to turn things on or off to participate in the breakouts. Everything flows automatically. On the instructors’ interface, they can simply jump from breakout to breakout or get a bird’s-eye view of each breakout from their vantage point. Also, if your session has co-instructors, they can manage the breakouts and serve as group leaders or group helpers. Finally, learners can interact with other learners in these breakouts in a simple yet effective manner and bring back the complete tasks or exercises to the main session.
The Power of Rich Media
Whereas today’s online classrooms work reasonably well with static documents, instructors and learners are looking at ways to deliver dynamic, interactive, rich media. How can instructors weave rich media into their lesson plans? A rich-media experience, where the instructor can deliver learning objects via Flash, 3-D, streaming audio and video, recordings, videotapes, DVDs, etc., adds a new dimension of learning. Rich media allows for delivering compelling visuals, simulations, dynamic content and more. This creates an engaging experience for the learners. The learners are no longer staring at static slides and hearing the instructor read them over. They are now engaged in a multimedia, audio-video, theater-style drama that is very hard to resist. Net result: Learners are engaged, with higher retention of materials and an improved learning experience.
The Power of Many
We have heard of co-instructors, co-trainers, panelists, assistants, subject-matter experts, moderators and more. In a face-to-face classroom these helpers often take on the more mundane tasks of answering particular questions, administering tests, providing grades and assisting in breakout sessions and even take on the onus of managing the operational environment of the classroom. Welcome to the world of online classrooms.
Many solutions in the marketplace today provide such helper roles. What the instructor or training coordinator is missing is the definition of this role of helper based on the type of classroom. For instance, for a fully hands-on classroom focused on lots of interactivity and hands-on exercises, the helper roles could be similar to the main instructor, where they have equal authority in driving the hands-on and breakout sessions. For a less intense classroom for delivering simple presentations and a bit of testing, the helper role could be to just switch the slides and conduct the tests.
Going one step further, the next-generation classroom should provide roles for group leaders among learners who can manage breakouts or hands-on exercises, even group dialogue and Q&A. At the end of the session, the group leader can present the findings. In essence, the next-generation classroom should provide flexibility in creating custom helper roles based on the type of classroom. Ultimately, the power of many instructors or leaders helping during the live classroom has a positive impact on the learning.
In a face-to-face classroom, since the instructor can see the learners and has eye contact, the instructor has a good sense of the overall learning experience. But how do you do this in an online classroom? How do you really get a sense of how engaged and active the learners are?
The next-generation online classroom needs to build intelligence about the learner, for instance, through automatic real-time tracking of learner activity, such as mouse strokes, keystrokes, use of raise-hand and feedback tools, questions, interaction in breakouts, tests and polls, hands-on exercises and more. Now the instructor can simply click on a learner’s name and get a real-time score of how engaged and active the learner is. If the learner’s score is high, that’s a great sign. If not, perhaps the instructor or the classroom needs to routinely solicit feedback from this learner and get him to participate. If the overall score of the entire classroom of learners is low, perhaps there is something wrong in the way the instructor is teaching. This could signal the instructor to change pace, bring in more engaging content or perhaps even overhaul the entire lesson plan. In the same manner, the classroom can do real-time tracking of the instructor’s activity level. Again, this is valuable information that can help the instructors dynamically change their delivery of training or drive their own self-learning and development.
Besides measuring real-time activity levels, the next generation of live learning can also add contextual tools that allow learners to cross-reference topics and text with industry-specific data and intelligence. For instance, if the instructor is talking about HIPAA compliance, the learner can simply click on the words and get a small summary of what HIPAA compliance means in real time. Building intelligent tools in the classroom allows for real-time tracking and analysis of the effectiveness of the learning.
Today’s classrooms are session-based. Learners show up on the day of the session, attend, learn and leave. When the class is over, learning is over. However, customers’ view of learning is continuous. Learning does not end when the class ends. Also, many classrooms are not just single-session classes—they are spread out over the course of many sessions or recur in certain patterns. There is also the element of pre-session learning and post-session follow-up and collaboration.
The next generation of live learning should effectively build itself into the continuous learning cycle. The classroom should provide persistence that allows learners and instructors to go back and retrieve contents of the classroom as well as to use it as a platform for exchanging ideas and notes before and after the class. For instance, imagine the learner had a question for the instructor or co-instructor after the class. Since the classroom is persistent, the learner could simply go back to the class, look at the notes, recording, Q&A, etc., and if the question is still not answered, pose the question to the instructor in the classroom. When the instructor receives this question, she can automatically reply to the learner as well as add the answer to the classroom. The learner can also pose the question to fellow learners and perhaps receive an answer from them. If the class is a multiple-session course, this persistence allows for class to begin exactly where it was left off, and even allows for the learners to look ahead and preview what’s coming.
The ability to record your classroom, break it down into knowledge nuggets and have it available for on-demand learning is also huge. The environment should provide a simple way to record a live classroom and repurpose it on the fly into vignettes that learners can use anytime, anywhere. The next-generation classroom goes beyond the session—both in the past and into the future. This type of classroom can tremendously improve the learning experience and the critical knowledge base of your training.
In summary, the next generation of live learning is simple to use, has built-in intelligence, promotes hands-on experience, enables dynamic rich-media delivery, is persistent and above all, creates a compelling environment for the learner. It provides a platform that even novice instructors can use and reuse, thereby alleviating the instructor gaps seen earlier in today’s classrooms. It simplifies the technology to help address learner gaps. It addresses many of the technology gaps of today’s online classroom solutions and goes above and beyond into the world of hands-on learning.
Sanjay Dalal has managed the WebEx Training Center product line at WebEx since 2001. Prior to his role at WebEx, Sanjay was co-founder of eComLive, a company pioneering real-time collaboration servers. Sanjay has also worked in management positions at Honeywell Bull and IBM. E-mail Sanjay at email@example.com.
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