The news isn’t that we’re continually shifting most of our time online in the knowledge economy, but that over time we’re learning more about what works and what doesn’t. Take Training & Development (T&D) for example. Here’s an industry that had a head start in providing digital and distance learning opportunities long before Covid. By developing and preparing virtual and hybrid educational programs for a relatively long period of time, it is expected that this industry can learn lessons that will inform other areas of business on how information can be disseminated in an online environment.
Another area where distance learning is being shared, admittedly more than they would like right now, is in education, both K-12 and higher education. Like T&D, their shared mission is to harness the power and ubiquity of computers and similar devices, along with the public’s basic technical skills, to provide teaching and learning opportunities when it is impractical to house students in traditional classrooms. Again, best practices are identified as teachers, schools and communities face the challenge of delivering quality online education.
Together, T&D and education are insightful methods and conditions to consider when the online workplace involves information sharing, change management, customer retention, and human resources development. Analysis of the peer-reviewed literature, the T&D/education marketplace, and anecdotal accounts from distance learning practitioners suggest key practices in the formulation and implementation of distance learning courses and programs. However, it is instructive to understand that the best of these methods are not just disjointed techniques produced by trial and error, but are based on a philosophical foundation.
Lev Vygotsky was a Soviet-era psychologist who is still known worldwide for his research on how people make sense, in other words, cognitive development. Briefly, his theory is that people acquire cultural values, beliefs, problem-solving strategies, and practical knowledge through collaboration with others, especially with more knowledgeable individuals. According to Vygotsky, understanding and meaning derive from a social context that makes community the fertile ground from which people learn. Today, Vygotsky’s theory is forcing developers of online education and training curricula to bring features of the face-to-face community into the digital environment. In this way, trainers and trainers can better facilitate the acquisition of concepts and knowledge for their students and trainees.
We must therefore trust in the interconnectivity and interplay that is possible through virtual contact. While still a novel concept for older generations, society is clearly moving toward a norm characterized by long-distance connections with others, whether through our use of social media, FaceTime, or online short-term credentialing courses. Three ideal practices that take advantage of social cohesion are:
To be present – This can range from presenting direct lessons in a synchronous or live-time manner, to being available for individual student/staff questions, to mentoring. There will be occasions when asynchronous (non-live time) communications, such as such as message boards, forums, and course policies, must be visible to all learners, but in general learners feel less abandoned when they are readily available or on-demand at set times and insecure.
interactions – Encouraging participant interaction encourages information sharing and social learning, leading to literacy. Three key dialogues for learning include teacher to student, student to student, and student to content. Fostering such exchange creates effective, growth-oriented connections between teachers and students, directed explorations conducted within a student-to-student context, and inquiry between a student and the facts and concepts of the subject areas.
discussion – Encouraging opportunities for students to participate in synchronous and asynchronous discussions creates significant educational value. Encounters with questions, reflections, answers and decisions support the growth of the participants. Thanks to digitization, well-structured discussions and consultations can strengthen any course.
When tasked with planning distance learning and classroom opportunities, remember the importance of creating social coherence. You may find that less has been lost through virtual use than you initially feared.
Thanks to Bill Ryan