Planning Your Blended Learning Program

This is the third blog in a series that looks at the learning principles behind blended learning, the needs of the audience and how these are determined, the technologies available and combining all these aspects together.

Now that we have profile to work from,  we can proceed to the planning of our blended course. And we will start this process by comparing our learner profile with the requirements for the intended training to see where we need to focus to achieve the maximum benefit for our learners.

blended learning

In the image above, from the last blog post, we have determined who our learner is and what their preferences for training might be. Across a normal learner population you will need to develop multiple versions of the above profile since your use group will envelop a wide variety of roles and user backgrounds. We are using one profile for the sake of easy explanation, however multiple profiles can be accommodated in any blended program by simply overlaying the profiles, identifying the commonalties and using these as focusses for the program.

Once you have your user profile, or profiles, ready to go these can be set aside while the focus shifts over to the actual training that is the requirement for the blended program.

Let me state at this point that one of keys for developing great training, whether a single intervention or an entire program, is the application of Occam’s razor. Which basically states that if the simplest option works, there is no need to look any further and build superfluous complexity.

This holds true for training delivery. If the requirement of the training is that the learner needs to memorise a 4 digit passcode to get access to the build, then the “training” material need be no more than an email containing the passcode and the instructions on when to use it. To send the learner, in this instance, an online course on why the passcode is required, have them attend a face to face training session on how to use the passcode entry panel, make them complete an online quiz and perform and observed and graded assessment of passcode entry, would only waste the learners and the instructors and the companies time.

In light of this we are going to look at some training for our regional nurse that is a little more complex than passcode entry so that we can explore some of the possibilities for a blended program.

For our program we will use the relatively broad topic of Pharmacology (ie the use and effects of drugs on patients).

As we did with our audience we need to break down the topic being training into its components however this time the result will be the required training outcomes for the specific learner groups undertaking the program. And to get to those outcomes we will need to pull apart the whole subject area and determine the topics and subtopics that make up the entire program.

Depending on the subject this can be a relatively simple task or it can be dauntingly complex and large, either way, the best approach I have found is to start with broad topic headings and then delve down through those headings to determine sub topics, sub topic sections and so on. This can be done with any method you prefer to use such as mind mapping, building a spreadsheet, white boarding, flip charts or even post it notes.

blended learning

So if we take this approach with our topic of the use and effects of drugs on patients, we might see the following breakdown of part of the topic. I have chosen to represent this breakdown within a hierarchy diagram, however there are multiple methods for documenting the requirements from bullet lists to mind maps to spreadsheets. You just need to choose the method that serves you best.

blended learning

With the full picture of the program now outlined for all learners, we can start to overlay the specific requirements for our identified learner profile, since different learner profiles may need varying levels of detail across the full program.

blended learning

Finally then, once the topic and all of its requirements are outlined and the audience has been overlayed onto this, we can return to our specific audience profiles so that we can make some informed decisions as to what elements the blended program requires based on the audience profiles.

5

Remember that some elements of your program may transcend the above process, for instance one aspect of the program may require the learner to demonstrate a physical task to an instructor or examiner. In the absence of a suitable video link capability this type of demonstration may only happen at a specific onsite location, hence ruling out online or written assessment options from your blended tools.

So we have now broken down our audience and our topic and we understand how those two fundamental elements are linked. Now we have the task of actually pulling together the elements of the blended program into a structured delivery point. In the next blog in this series I will look at how a Learning Management System (LMS) is perfect delivery point for this type of program, how it can be configured to support the multiple facets of the topics and user needs and what some of the pitfalls are when selecting an LMS to handle the job.

Facilitating Online Courses

For the past year I’ve been facilitating our Master eLearning Course while my colleague Ruth McElhone has been on maternity leave (she’s back now). I’ve found that facilitating in the online environment is quite different from classroom facilitation and as such has a number of unique characteristics and limitations. I’ve learnt (and continue to learn) a lot about online facilitation by actually doing it.

Here’s some reflections/tips/ideas from what Ruth taught me and from my own experience about what I’ve found works well at different stages of an online course:

Before the Online Course Starts

  1. Familiarise yourself with the course delivery structure and the site/platform.
  2. Develop an online delivery plan/schedule.
  3. Make sure your contact information is up to date.
  4. Provide clear log-in instructions to students.

 At the Beginning of the Online Course

  1. Contact students, welcome them to the course.
  2. Check that students can log-in, provide support and troubleshoot as needed.
  3. Facilitate introductions and community-building activities at beginning of the course e.g. have everyone introduce themselves in a forum.
  4. Set clear expectations.
  5. Confirm contact/turnaround times.
  6. Emphasise the importance of interactions and that online communication between participants is key to building community and contributes to the course outcomes, profiles, forums, chats etc.
  7. Encourage sharing of ideas and experiences.

 During the Online Course

  1. Be a positive online role model.
  2. Send some sort of meaningful weekly communication (I used email and a short weekly video) but don’t overwhelm students.
  3. Ideally respond to student’s communication quickly to resolve any difficulties/queries to ensure their learning is not interrupted e.g. phone calls, email, messaging, and forum posts.
  4. Be approachable and provide guidance and direction to students when needed.
  5. Personalise the experience for students as much as possible.
  6. Encourage online communication between students.
  7. Promote student independence/responsibility and student collaboration.
  8. Monitor student progress, participation in activities and completion of assessment tasks and follow-up as required.
  9. Provide informative developmental feedback.

After the Online Course Finishes

  1. Wrap-up the course, thank learners for their participation.
  2. Review learner feedback and make adjustments and improvements.
  3. Engage in your own self-reflection for improvement and consolidation.

What are your tips for successful online course facilitation? Let me know in the comments area below.

Delivering_Webinars

eLearning Webinars – make that hour count!

Part of my job in managing the Master eLearning Course is to deliver webinars on a weekly basis, sometimes up to 8 to 10 a week. We integrate webinars into the course so students can benefit from synchronous interaction with peers and learning coaches.  I’ve been delivering these webinars for a few years now and I’ve definitely got better….because from where I started there was nowhere else but up!

Here are some approaches I use to make the webinar a ‘memorable, meaningful and motivating’ learning experience which also help to avoid drowsiness on the other end of the camera! My webinars usually have a max of about 15 people so some of these approaches may not work for everyone.

Make it Interactive

Keeping attendees engaged with the content and me is important in my sessions. I only have an hour with my students once a week so this time is precious. I need to make it count!  I need to make sure that I keep my audience engaged and interacting with me and the content on some level. I do this through asking lots of questions and getting users to answer them verbally or using the chat feature. We also answer polls about certain topics and then reflect on choices that we have made etc. I do a lot of software demonstrations and these can get quite boring so to get around that I give the users control of my desktop and then provide instructions while they navigate or interact with the software.

Add the human element

Webinars can be a strange learning environment for a lot of people. At the start of a session I make sure that I make contact with each attendee, have a quick chat, checking audio and making sure that they are ready to get started. Then we’ll start off with a little warm up activity such as ‘what you can see out your window’, ‘if you were exiled to a desert island, what would you bring etc’. I get attendees to write their answers on the whiteboard. Ice-breakers like these ensure that attendees know how to use webinar tools and it can sometime add a touch of humour or fun to the session. I like to keep my sessions fun, light and informal if I can. We are missing that face to face interaction so I have to compensate for it in other ways. M webcam is always on. It gets a little embarrassing when I get quite animated about what I’m saying as I use my hands to talk! Based on the feedback, the majority of my students really enjoy this type of informal, light approach to the sessions. It also goes back to knowing your audience. I need to build up a relationship with my students over a four month period so these sessions are crucial.

To speak or not to speak that is the question!

Some webinar instructors prefer to be the only one speaking in the session.  The webinar sessions I enjoy most are when everyone shares their thoughts, ideas and experiences. If possible I encourage users to keep their microphones un-muted.  Just like a classroom session, every webinar session is different and you will have some attendees more willing to chat than others. I try to encourage conversation by creating a safe, comfortable environment and directing questions at individuals to get them involved. My top tip for asking a question in webinars is never ask a question and throw it out to the attendees expecting everyone to answer.  Nine times out of ten you will just get silence! We can’t pick up on visual cues such as eye contact in a session so I compensate for this by always directing a question at an individual attendee.

Another top tip is to record your sessions!  At the start of each webinar I remind students that the session will be recorded so they can sit back and relax.  If users are taking notes they may miss key points or miss certain interactions.  We then make the recorded sessions available for students from our LMS. These should be accessible as soon as possible after the webinar is complete.

Finally, preparation and trialling is paramount. When you’re fully prepared and comfortable presenting in this environment then it will be a more enjoyable experience for all involved.

Successful Online Learning Tips

For many, the prospect of studying online for the first time can be daunting! The thought of studying without someone right there in front of you can be intimidating. However, those with experience in online learning would agree that online learning is supportive, flexible, personalised and collaborative.

Supportive

Frequent and convenient communication between learners and learning coaches is the key to a successful learning experience. With approachable and experienced learning coaches at hand, online learners are equipped with the necessary tools to enhance their learning. Subject matter expertise is provided as are the opportunities for feedback on questions, concerns and issues. Any barriers or feelings of isolation are easily overcome through the ongoing dialogue between the learning coach and the learner. Additional support is found through the networking opportunities provided. Discussions in webinars and online forums create a collaborative team learning environment.

Flexible

Most adults who participate in online learning are happy with the freedom they enjoy. Learners can learn when they want and where they want, planning study time around their day, not the other way around. This is great for those working full time or who family commitments and wouldn’t be able to attend classes any other way.

The addition of strict deadlines to already busy schedules adds extra stress and pressure. Often schedules are not as strict when studying online. Learners can work on and complete assessments when they are ready and at their own pace.

Course material is also accessible 24 hours a day 7 days a week.  When participating in traditional lecture style lessons, the spoken word may be missed due to distractions such as tiredness or boredom. Online learners have the opportunity to re read and review course work ensuring essential information isn’t missed. Also, as there are no geographic barriers to online learning, learners have access to diverse course material and information that may not be available to them where they live or work.

Personalised

Everyone learns and absorbs information in different ways. Some learn visually and others do better when they “learn by doing”. The supply of information through a variety of mediums: videos, readings, case studies, participation in online forums and the sharing of ideas in webinars ensure all online learners have the opportunity to engage, participate and learn in a way that suits them.

Collaborative

Participating online is much less intimidating than in the face to face classroom. Online learning provides a degree of anonymity, creating a level playing field for all learners which is uninterrupted by bias or prejudice. For some, this sense of anonymity frees them to express themselves without fear of being ridiculed or judged by their peers. Everyone gets a say, not just the “talkative”. Online learners also have the opportunity to think longer about what they want to say and can actually listen to and absorb comments made by other students.

What Does It Take To Be An Online Student?

With technology’s great impact on education, there has been a tremendous rise in the number of online students. Here we will discuss the qualities of a great online student, so that you can be one, too.

Have excellent skills in technology

Of course, the first thing an online student must do is to be well-versed with technology. With the recent developments, you must be able to adopt and learn the latest trends in order to effectively use them in your learning process. Moreover, it offers different venues to have a teacher-student interaction aside from the university’s online learning system. In the United Kingdom, O2 has released the O2 Learn, a free video library app where teachers give their lessons and revision tips online. This becomes a great avenue for them to learn outside their classroom.

Be motivated to learn 

To be highly motivated, you should start loving the art of learning. In an online classroom, no one stands as an authoritative figure but yourself. As part of the motivation process, one technique you can use is setting and tracking attainable goals. It’s best to keep a checklist of lessons you’ve accomplished to keep yourself  motivated daily.

Communicate effectively and intellectually

Although your instructors are not physically there to supervise you, they are able to do their best to effectively communicate with you in order for you to get your lessons easier. According to a study, having a mutual communication between a student and a teacher in an online environment greatly impacts learners’ organization, rapport, and satisfaction.

Aside from your instructor, you can also communicate with other online students online. In this way, you will feel more involved in the class. From your circle, you can share all your thoughts and goals on a specific course. On top of all, don’t be afraid to ask questions.

Time management is everything

Having an organized time table will make your e-learning life better, especially when your things pile up at the last minute. This will also teach you to be diligent in meeting deadlines. Be reminded of a specific task by simply plotting them on a calendar. For some, managing time is a bit complex since there is no specific formula to follow. It only depends on your situation and the ability to pick the best style that works for you.

Develop critical thinking skills

Just like in a classroom set up, you need to have a strong critical thinking to pass a certain course, same goes for e-classroom setting. You must learn how to build questions and knowledge based on  what you have learned. It will be beneficial as you take more difficult courses where there are more critical thinking abilities required.

Enrolling in an online course isn’t just about finishing and getting that printed certificate. It’s about you being more responsible in having a balance between learning and your personal life. These will come handy when it’s time to pursue a career in the latter part. What other tips can you share to other online students? Share them with us.

Confessions of an Online Facilitator

There has always been a debate as to whether people are really interested in taking a course or getting a qualification that’s fully online. According to the Babson Survey Research Group 2011 study, approximately 31% of college students were taking at least one online course (Allen & Seaman, 2011). I’m sure the figures are much higher now but it’s a good reminder of the future of higher education. Over the last few years I’ve learnt a lot of valuable lessons about delivering a qualification that solely delivered online and I thought I’d use this blog post as a chance to reflect on my experiences to date.

Facilitating the Master eLearning Course (MEC) is one of the reasons that I love my job here at B Online Learning. It involves co-ordinating and delivering the Master eLearning Course (part of a diploma qualification). MEC allows me to interact with other elearning professionals around Australia and Asia Pacific region. Some are at the beginning of their elearning journey and some a little more experienced.  The MEC is a four month online course delivered via course modules, webinars, social media, and assessments.  By the end of the course, students will be able to design, develop and deliver elearning.

Here are 3 suggestions to help you facilitate successfully online.

Student Motivation

Student motivation is probably my biggest nemesis. We can provide all the support in the world but if the student is not intrinsically motivated they may fail to complete. At the start of every course I like to have a chat with every student to find out their goals in taking the course and also to help them form a study plan. If you are embarking on an online course ask yourself how motivated are you? Are you prepared to allocate study time each week and make it a priority?  Just because it’s online doesn’t necessarily mean it’s easier. I also find that a friendly phone call works best if students have ‘fallen off the wagon’. It reassures the student to let them know they can continue and it also gives them an opportunity to set some new learning goals.

Structure versus Self-Paced

For me this really depends on the content and the audience. Some online courses follow a distance learning model where the student is given the content and they can complete it whenever they wish. This type of model doesn’t work for me personally! I’m one of those ‘put it on the long finger’ type of people.  I’ve taken this into consideration for the MEC course so students have two study options: (a) follow a strict 4 month timeline or (b) complete it by yourself over a 12 month period. Most people chose Option A. Unless you are highly motivated, it can be really hard to just fit in a course over a long period of time. You also lose your study momentum.  I’ve been reading a lot about MOOCs lately and hearing how thousands, if not hundreds of thousands sign up for these courses but only a small number actually complete. I would love to hear some exact figures about this. So I’ve put my money where my mouth is and have signed myself up for a Gamification MOOC starting in a week!  I want to learn more about gamification but also to see what it’s like on the student end for a change and use the experience to enhance my own practice. But the questions still remain…..am I motivated? …..can I allocate enough time to this? Time will tell.

Variety

Variety is the spice of life as they say! I’ve learnt the hard way that we need to add variety but too much variety can also be confusing. Make sure your learner guide or induction guide clearly state what student must attend or participate in e.g. gaining credits for attending webinars. We like to add a lot of variety to the MEC course through synchronous and asynchronous learning activities:

  • webinars
  • elearning Modules
  • social media (forums , literature libraries, wikis, blogs, chat rooms)
  • online quizzes
  • mixture of written assessments and practical assessments

Using a variety of modes such as webinars and social media allow students to interact with others and take away that feeling of alienation when completing an online qualification.

We have excellent completion rates here at B Online Learning and it’s something that we are quite proud of. However, we are always learning and improving our course structure. My final advice as an online facilitate is to keep in regular contact with your students and also provide as much structure/guidance as you can! Then wait for those completion reports to come flooding through your inbox!

 Allen, I. E., & Seaman, J. (2011). Going the distance: Online education in the United States. Babson Survey Research Group and Quahong Research Group, LLC.

 

informal_learning

Invisible Learning Takes Centre Stage

This article from HCAMAG.COM discusses how informal learning which now accounts for up to 90% of learning in the workplace, and social media are now making inroads into this area of corporate life. It may be time to ensure your L&D practices are keeping up.

It features B Online Learning’s eLearning strategies and observations from our eLearning Manager, Ruth McElhone, including her tips on how to implement new learning approaches.

Read the full article here.

Motivate Learning with Mobile Learning

In this white paper from 2012, we discuss what mobile learning is, how it can improve an organisation’s learning processes and practices, and finally 4 key questions to answer before you implement mobile learning.

  1. How was mobile learning going to address the problems I had?
  2. What devices does our organisation support?
  3. Do I have the necessary organisation support?
  4. How does it fit into our existing learning strategy?

Gain a practical insight into implementing mobile learning through the eyes of Bridget, the Learning & Development Manager for a medium size manufacturing company.  Bridget is looking to improve learning delivery to all her employees and needs to ensure she makes the right decision on how to do this.

Download the full whitepaper here . . . .

Make social media part of your eLearning strategy

There has been a lot of talk lately about informal learning or social learning in the workplace.  So what’s social learning? Dave Wilkins defines it as ‘learning through your interactions with others and through the knowledge and expertise of others’ (Wilkins 2009)

Nowadays learners do not need to be in the same place at the same time. They have access to learning anywhere, anytime any place.  Crosby (2006)suggests that formal training and workshops account for only 10% to 20% of what people learn at work. Most corporations over-invest in formal training while leaving the more natural, simple ways we learn to chance.

So here is the big question: How can we capitalize on this informal or social learning through our elearning platforms? 

And the answer is: Through using social media tools effectively to support your online courses.

Companies can spend large sums of money creating fantastic elearning courses but sometimes these are rarely used to their full potential because the ability to collaborate and share ideas and experiences is lacking.

While we are pumping out vast quantities of online courses, employees are learning in many other ways, such as talking, listening, watching.  This is the way we learn informally.

We need to support this type of informal learning and find ways to realise its potential.

A recent report by CARA revealed that 70% of learning in the workplace is through informal channels. Through social media tools people search and access all kinds of information through blogs, wikis, podcasts, websites. With the advent of web 2.0, we are both consumers and producers of information. Online communities are formed where people meet like minded people,  where they can communicate with each other and share ideas and experiences.  People are using these tools to collaborate, create content and work together.

In order for our elearning learning to be effective our Learning platforms must support all these different approaches: formal and informal, personal and social. It is evident from recent research that formal and informal learning have a symbiotic relationship.

Sounds great right? But there’s a catch!

A lot of LMS’s out there mainly support formal learning. But if we incorporate unfettered access to a variety of social media tools such as Facebook, YouTube and others then we could run the risk of compromising our company’s intellectual property and leaving ourselves open to breach of privacy problems.  Implementing an eLearning platform that can cater for formal eLearning while allowing users to create a community of practice within a secure environment is one of the best solutions. Birch, our Learning Platform has social collaboration features.

Users can still complete their formal learning tasks while also storing and sharing their personal learning and resources, provide a secure place for groups or individuals to work collaboratively and provide a secure place for formal social and collaborative learning to take place.  This can be done through blogs, wikis, sharing and comment on relevant articles or posting key discussion forum topics.  We are ultimately creating a ‘community of practice’ (Wenger 2006)

Communities of practice are groups of people who share a concern or a passion for something they do and learn how to do it better as they interact regularly.(Wenger 2006)

So whats the role of an instructor in all this?

The human element, in the form of an e-moderator, should guide discussion forums, write relevant blogs posts and monitor activity.  If this is missing then the collaboration and content runs the risk of becoming too unstructured and anarchic, which can be frustrating and time consuming.  It’s all very well to have wikis, discussion forums, blogs and videos but if they are not structured, themed and used effectively (or sometimes not used at all) then it’s a waste of time.

So, in the words of Erik Qulaman “We don’t have a choice on whether we do social media; the question is how well we do it.”

What are your experiences of creating “communities of practice”? Have you started to build social sharing into your learning strategy? Share your views in the comments section below we would love to hear what you have to say.

You may also be interested in my presentation, A Little More Conversation – Building a Dynamic Social Learning Space – click here

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