Five Traps to Avoid in Designing Online Learning
Thinking differently about the opportunities that online learning has to offer
Many educational establishments and operations will have recent experience of migrating classroom-based programmes for online delivery. How easy has this been? How effective was the outcome? I would hazard a guess that the answers to these two questions are paired opposites i.e. if it was easy to do then the outcomes were less than good; if it was hard to do then the outcomes will have fared better.
There is a temptation to think that the migration process is simply a matter of replicating what you do in the classroom as best you can online. However, this approach is likely to lead you down a path filled with traps that will have dire consequences for the learner experience. You need to start thinking differently to recognise both the limitations as well as the, perhaps as yet undiscovered, opportunities that online learning has to offer.
Let me elaborate on five common traps that educationalists fall into when faced with the digital transformation of learning.
The Content Trap …or ‘pile it high sell it cheap’
We typically have piles of educational resources at our fingertips and the tendency is to follow the easy path of constructing our online programme around a comprehensive suite of learning content and materials. After all, this makes the course look weighty and meaty, right? Not so, I am afraid. If you focus on content first, then you will most likely bore your audience silly within no time. From the start, you need to think deeply about all the critical elements of the learning process, including social interaction, discussion, experimentation, group work, assessments, and time-out. Learning is a complex multi-dimensional process where content is just one of several key elements, all of which need equal thought and attention.
The One-Size-For-Everyone Trap …or ‘it only comes in black’
We know that our learners each have different learning styles and preferences. In the classroom we try our best to work around this by offering our individual attention to each student where we can. In the online world we have greater opportunities to enable personalised learner journeys, so think carefully about what these may be and how they can be incorporated into your programmes. Your learners are not restricted to the resources you have available in the physical classroom any more so invest time in researching and curating relevant online resources or apps that are relevant to your subject area and that you can use to enrich your learning programmes. Many of these will be available for free. Recognise that learning no longer needs to be restricted to those opportunities inside the ‘walls’ of our educational or corporate academies.
The Isolation Trap … or ‘online means alone’
At its heart learning is a social process. In the classroom, the social element is normally restricted to the people within that classroom. Once you move online then in some ways it becomes even more viable to introduce other social elements. Peer-to-peer discussions and working on a wider basis can be enabled and encouraged utilising any of the available collaboration tools within your organisation or communities. In addition, it may now be much more practical to invite guest speakers, industry experts, client partners or whomever, to contribute a small amount of their time in your learning activities; whereas they could never have afforded the time involved when their physical presence was required.
The Educator Trap … or ‘educators don’t need educating’
Designing and facilitating an online programme requires some new skill sets and competencies for the educators themselves. It is unfair and irresponsible to assume that a good classroom educator can become a good online educator overnight. Of course, the basic foundations of learning are the same, but the way you manifest those in a virtual space is very different. You need to invest in the education and development of your educators to support them through this transition and enable them to build effective programmes for your future.
The Serious Trap …or ‘there is no time for fun online’
I would think that many of us will recognise that the most influential teachers and educators in our lives have possessed the ability to make our learning experience fun and enjoyable. In fact, as a learning professional, I have often explained to my clients that if there is no fun in the classroom then there will be little learning taking place. Something strange can happen to us, as educators, when we shift from classroom to online. Suddenly our natural ability and talent to introduce just the right element of light-heartedness and humour evaporates and we are left offering only a dry and dull learning experience. In an online world we need to think about different ways of lightening the mood. For example, playing appropriate music or presenting thought provoking images when people are joining an online event can do much to set the right tone for the session; or using polls to offer people easy ways to contribute and to give immediate feedback.