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What I’m learning about Online Training

Online training is actually a pretty good way to go! For me, that’s a revelation. 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. Click here to see the courses we now offer in an online format.

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 brutal 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 just don’t work 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 an 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 these 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). Asking a classroom full of maintainers to do homework was never very successful. Even simple requests like asking them to check air pressure in the spare tire in their trunk so that we could determine the risk of it being deflated never got much action. Online assignments don’t let them off the hook. Like the quizzes, they are scored, but submission can be made necessary before the student can even progress to the next lesson. The assignments, also new content, can be very well thought out. In a couple of our courses, we have assignments that 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 lessons building up over 9 lessons. They are required to be submitted as a “capstone” assignment at the end. If they did all the assignment 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 and earn their certification.

The recording of the lessons wasn’t as bad as I had expected. 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 recording. After a few failed takes and also got the hang of using a bit of hand gesture and facial expression. 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 possible to include all those with the course materials, provided they are available in electronic format. 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 purposes. Some might worry about others copying their materials, but I have different ideas on that.

You can produce a useful result, not just learning. Face-to-face courses are always time-limited. You cannot get the full learning experience squeezed into a classroom setting. Schools and universities use assignments and projects to build on what is taught and 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. Our RCM-R online course for certification does just that. That assignment is a complete analysis of a real system. The student can make use of it at their operation right after the course. Our feedback on the submission will indicate whether or not we feel they’ve done a good job and could use it. That course isn’t just for learning, it actually becomes a pilot project.

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 you can offer, you dn’ thave 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. Even for consultants, possibly competitors of ours, it’s there. Here’s an article on how consultants, who often don’t know much about reliability and maintenance, can identify opportunities for their clients and really add some value.

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 up at airports or lonely nights away from home. No parking hassles at the training venue. Normally I travel to my customers, so those are not really all that bad! For the students, there’s no need to really disrupt your lifestyle at all.