The Online Learning Impact: This Was Unexpected!

COVID-19 was the tipping point for eLearning. Prior to 2020, online learning was making headway in both the corporate and educational world. Technology was capable of meeting demand. The end-user experience was favorable and the results were positive. Then, COVID-19 hit and students and employees were sent home. The corporate world changed forever.

Severely impacted by this historical event was higher education. Starting in 2020 and continuing, the pandemic forced billions of students around the world from traditional methods to online learning. When possible, the format was hybrid, meaning both ILT (instructor-led training) and VLT (virtual-led training) were being implemented. For some, the transition to online learning only was inevitable.

Both the corporate and higher education organizations shared one thing in common: They were not prepared. Classroom content had to be reworked to be effective online. The changes that COVID-19 has caused are here to stay. They are not to blame; this happened fast and they had to react fast. Many lessons were learned, which bring us to 2021 and 2022 and how we should prepare.

Is Online Learning Effective? 

Access to technology is the key component to a successful implementation. For those that have adequate access to technology, online learning has been shown to increase retention rates significantly more than classroom learning only. The end-user experience has been seen as positive and has generated many long-term benefits, such as increased knowledge retention, increased productivity, and an increase in end-user engagement. Many components make online learning effective, including but not limited to the use of multimedia resources, such as video, audio, animation and graphics, micro-learning, and the benefits of learning anytime, anywhere.

The User Experience 

Whenever an unexpected surge in the use of anything, there will always be a difference between the expected and the unexpected. In 1983, Jones International University opened in Centennial, Colorado, becoming the first fully web-based, accredited university. There were earlier attempts by other organizations that used methods that did not utilize computers. There were also very specific governmental and military uses. In all cases, technology had to mature to be truly effective. Fast forward to 2020, technology was adequate to provide an immersive online learning experience. The bad news is that there was not an abundance of instructional designers that could translate the typical instructor-led training to an online environment. Specific attention had to be applied to make sure that the rigor of training was sufficient and engaging for students to ensure they would participate not only in this course but also in future courses.

How Do Students Learn? 

I am being somewhat loose with the term “student” because it applies to both an educational as well as a corporate scenario. In the last 20 to 30 years, students have had a rich multimedia learning environment. They are used to videos, audio-only (podcasts), and animation presented to them in almost every digital format available to them. Knowing this, new online content must take this into account and provide content that meets these criteria. Putting the content into a format that is designed to meet the intended outcomes is also critical to ensure student and organization success.

How To Fail

Some approaches to online learning have been to just take the hard copy content, digitize it, and call it “done.” This is the fastest path to failure. This does not meet the needs of students. It will not create a good learning environment and it will not meet any expected outcome. Content must be engaging, useful, and convenient. This means short, sharp, and practical materials that they get access to anytime, anywhere.

How To Succeed

It is imperative that you develop strategies that will engage the learner. A typical instructor-led training followed a linear progression that basically led the student from step 1 to the next step, etc, until completion. Even worse is when that same training was just digitized with no attempt to involve the learner, using some of the methods previously listed. As you can see, preparing for an online course is going to take a lot of work. Some of the strategies will include preparing the course materials and defining course objectives and outcomes. Break the content down into smaller modules that allow the learner to stay engaged and not disengaged by being bored or not being actively involved in the training. Utilizing Bloom’s Taxonomy will ensure that you are asking the right questions in the right format for the level of the student. For example, an early learner may only be able to define terminology, while a more advanced learner will be expected to provide examples and evaluate at a much higher cognitive level. Therefore, the content should be written appropriately for each learner’s level.

The Online Learning Impact For 2022

We are just scratching the surface on the many topics discussed here. Future articles will cover these topics in more detail. The goal is to flatten the learning curve for you, help you engage with your end users, and make online learning an effective resource for your organization.

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