Online Learning – what you need to know before you start

By Lisa Hughes, management facilitator and executive coach.

Learning and Development (L&D) is key to staying relevant in our ever-changing work and professional environments, and is one of the key elements in increasing employee engagement and satisfaction. It is important for us all to learn new skills, to stay informed about the latest trends, to develop leadership abilities, and look to the future.  Never have these skills been more important than now, given that none of us is clear on the skills that will be required in the new ‘normal’.

Image: iStock

Happily, one of the great things to come out of the rise in technology over recent years is that online and virtual learning are easier than ever, and can bring rewards for both workers and businesses.  So, what are some benefits and concerns about online training programmes, and what are the key things to look out for in a good virtual / online training programme?

Benefits:

Flexibility, Convenience, and Time Saving
Online learning is more flexible and convenient than in-person study. Classes or modules can be completed at any time of the day or night from wherever is convenient, whenever it fits into your schedule. Without the need to travel, park or organize childcare to attend in-person lectures, more time is made available for learning.

Recording of Content You can Access Remotely
You also have a library of resources that you can refer to when applying the learning in the real world.  With this access it’s easy to refer back to a video or a module or an article to refresh your learning and gain clarity. This is especially useful if are you are living in a rural area and not near a major city – now you have equal access to the resources you need on an ongoing basis.

More Effective Learning
Everyone learns at their own pace.  When studying online, you can learn at your own speed, rather than being rushed to keep up with tutors or classmates, looking back over notes and texts and clarifying content. Working at your own pace online, ‘knowledge transfer’ can often be more effective than in-person learning.

Concerns:

Discipline
The ability to create your own schedule and learn on your own time has great advantages but also carries the risk that we may drop out, not conclude the course or even cram the learning.  You need to be disciplined to work on your own time schedule without the personal contact of a lecturer or a timetable that is set out for you.

The absence of Group Learning
When we take on a course we very often learn as much, if not more, from the other participants, as we do from the tutors; we share experiences in class discussions and we collaborate and learn together.  If you are in a virtual classroom or online classroom with thousands of others you miss out on the lecturer’s personal attention and also your classmates’ interactions.

Accountability
Self-directed learning can be brilliant but most of us also need others to check in on us and encourage us to sustain the momentum of learning.  It’s easy to fall off the learning bandwagon.  Online learning courses, without any personal interactions or check-ins, mean that course completion rates can be quite low.

So, What’s the Answer? 

Look for these learning elements in any virtual or online programme to maximise potential of successful learning:

  • In-person virtual delivery – Having lectures delivered on a virtual platform, as you would an in-classroom lecture, increases discipline and interactivity. A blend of online and offline is ideal to suit everyone’s learning style.
  • Access to resources – Ensure lectures are recorded for accessing offline so you can take your time to work through topics, build your understanding and application of what you’ve learned.
  • Accountability – Ideally you should look for programmes where exercises need to be completed or there are one-to-one or group check-ins on progress to keep you honest and on track.
  • Group Interactivity – Look for programmes that allow you to interact with your fellow participants for support in your learning and to build new experiences.

Well planned virtual and online learning programmes will support you in staying up to date in your workplace and continuing to grow and develop your skills – a must as we all move forward into a potentially new world of work.

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