Victor Jeurissen, global practice leader for IBM Management Development Solutions, defines eLearning as „the use of innovative technologies and learning models to transform the way individuals and organizations acquire new skills and access knowledge“ (Moeng, 2004). He further defines learning as a collaboration of information, interaction, and information interchange.
In an online environment, an experience without communication is akin to searching for something in the dark.
In this section, we explain communication strategies that will enable deeper engagement and higher order thinking skills in online learners.
Why is it important?
Have you ever walked in the dark? Literally, in pitch black darkness? With a feeling that you are definitely walking in circles – getting nowhere? Well, first-time learners feel exactly like this. If you really empathize with the “fear of the unknown” feeling, be proactive in communicating with your eLearners. Put yourself in their shoes and think of your expectations and questions as a first-time eLearner. What information should be easily accessible? What technical skills need retouching? Any software plugins? Above all, what are the different formats of communication in this eLearning environment and how to navigate to them?
There are a couple of examples of how to facilitate communication, regarding your online courses.
Forums are undeniably the most popular form of communication. Involve some expert employees, whose work speaks for them, and you have an engaging discussion! It really depends on how you, as a training manager, will moderate the messages. Moderating comments is also an art in itself. You need to be able to sense aggression and defensiveness in words. Your goal is to shift the conversation towards a more productive, positive and creative direction. The best part about textual interchange is the use of passive language that is usually hidden in active speech. As individuals, we share more in a text form than we do verbally. A personal perspective sharing makes forums (and any text-based communication) a really superior form of communication, as compared to a live classroom.
Instant messaging is one of the oldest methods of communicating online. Announce the chat times you are available for any “course-related” assistance! Chatting in real time is more effective in eliminating confusion and frustration in learners. Chatting with an expert is also very rewarding. Involve a chat session with a VIP in your organization. Watch how eager learners and achievers will flock in that session to get a piece of the expert’s mind. The fact that experts elsewhere in the eLearning environment, charge substantial amounts of money, makes this session even more satisfying. Announce the availability of experts for their respective courses. Learners enjoy interacting with experts and gaining access to meaningful information. Instant messages are also a great way to engage peers with each other. A mandatory, once a week session will enable learners to collaborate with each other. They can share their concerns and offer suggestions, creating a more trustworthy learning environment. A factor relatively hard to establish later, if not done early on.
Personal messages are like notifications. We discussed notifications and their type in the previous section. Personal messages are easy to send out if there is a limited number of learners. Indeed, the quality of learning is enhanced with learner specific feedback. One of the best strategies to automate customized messages to the learner is to create a database for comments that is integrated with the course, hosted by your learning management system. Use this database to store learners’ profiles, their performance, their concerns, their strengths and weaknesses. Most importantly, post at least two comments a week. These comments can reflect a change (no matter how small) in their performance. The day you update these comments in this database, use their mobile contacts to send the comment out in the form of notification. When learners receive specific and timely comments on their performance, they are more likely to improve. However, at a larger scale, this method loses feasibility. Personalized messages are time-consuming for a large learner group. Mass notification would be the only effective way to be proactive in communicating with eLearners.
Any learning management system must have a system announcement feature. These announcements are sent out as either notifications or emails. System announcements can vary from technical downtime information to upcoming events in the LMS calendar. They can be used to provide a heads-up on upcoming e-course related events. Reminders linked to the system calendar can be sent out to learners to ensure their participation. System announcements can also invite more learners to an online orientation or seminar by key speakers. Another great idea to post on system announcements is the post-course survey results including learners‘ testimonials. Polls that ask user preference in learning, interactivity requirements and communication preferences can also be integrated in system announcements. Finally, use this format of communication to announce your latest course. Talk about its features periodically. Announce the enrollment dates and deadlines related to the course. Include any messages from CEOs and VIPs that endorse your upcoming course. Consider system announcement as a very serious and “final” method of conveying news and messages that should be received by everyone using the learning portal.
Make sure you have those features in your LMS
The previous section provided an example where course defects are detected using reporting and tracking tools of the LMS. Improvements made in increments are actually the final aspect of instructional design. Not surprisingly, the phase is never completed. New comments and issues arise based on work context changes that need to be addressed in the course. This reminds us the importance of this eBook. If you want to be involved in upgrading your company’s courses and training, work closely with an ID (and follow the tips in this eBook) to perform in-house training improvement tasks. We guarantee an impressed boss and a raise! When we stressed the importance of communication between all users of an LMS, we also meant to use data collection strategies. These strategies fall under the “Evaluation” phase of the course design process.
Best practices in instructional design, advise us to create a pre and a post-course survey. A pre-course survey enables ID’s to understand the learner in better detail These surveys aid in performing efficient course improvements during the iteration process Pre-course surveys will also allow instructors to understand the capability, needs and expectations of learners enrolled in the course. Similarly, the post-course survey will demonstrate the quality of the learning experience. Any suggestions and ideas should be considered seriously when revising the course’s content. Iterations through evaluating the course truly raise the quality and relevance of the learning materials.
Apart from evaluating your course’s performance, integrating all features discussed above in your eLearning environment will ensure socio-constructive learning and more satisfied learners.
Use these tips to take your course up another level!