Planning an online session


Phil Green, Onlignment Ltd Last Published  24 March 2014

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Background information
Be clear what you're aiming to achieve.

The purpose of a learning intervention can be viewed at three different levels:

1.The organisational aims that the intervention is designed to support.
2. The changes in performance that are required if the aims are to be achieved.
3. The knowledge, skills and attitudes needed to accomplish the desired performance.

If these are not absolutely clear, you need to do more research before you design anything, otherwise you won't know whether an online session is suitable, what to cover in the session and what instructional methods to use.
Diverse learning and training strategies
Most learning topics in the workplace are task-based because your goal is typically to change performance in some way. However, it is often necessary for participants to have an understanding of key underlying facts and concepts in order to carry out the task in question. Usually it's better to teach facts and concepts first, rather than to teach them as you are explaining the task.

You can increase engagement by converting traditional didactic teaching (that's where you present the content, provide examples and then ask questions or have participants practise) into inductive learning (where you provide examples, then derive the key learning points by asking challenging questions about the examples, only then moving on to check understanding and having participants practise). The inductive approach is best for teaching principle-based tasks or concepts, but is not suited to teaching facts and procedures, where the learning is much more black and white.

Your role as designer of the session is to select the most appropriate methods and media to meet the particular objectives. Often the best approach is to combine a live online session with asynchronous methods used before and after. It can be helpful to think of the session as a real-time event packaged with preparation and information-sharing ahead of time and continued reflection and sharing afterwards.

Different types of learning objectives require very different strategies and instructional methods. Make sure you know what type of learning you're aiming at and that your strategies and methods are up to the task.
Selecting the right training strategy to meet the learning need
Procedural tasks are step-by-step activities completed much the same way each time. These benefit from demonstrations followed by hands-on practice with feedback.

Principle-based tasks are governed by guidelines that are implemented differently each time. Here participants need to see demonstrations showing how the task is carried out in a variety of situations and then practise the task in diverse situations. These tasks are especially amenable to group settings.

A process is a series of stages that operate in sequence on a cause-and-effect basis. Examples of processes include the workings of a computer, the way learning occurs in the brain, or the stages in performance management. You can help people to understand a process using diagrams, experiments, case studies and simulations.

Facts are arbitrary pieces of information that need to be memorised or referred to as needed. It is not easy to remember facts, so nothing beats repeated practice.

A concept is a word or phrase that represents a whole class of items that share common features. ‘Word-processing’ is a concept, whereas the product ‘Microsoft Word’ is a fact; ‘actor’ is a concept, whereas the name ‘Harrison Ford’ is a fact. To teach concepts you need to explain the unique characteristics of the concept, provide lots of examples and then have participants identify correct and incorrect examples.
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Tool written by Phil Green