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Subrah Iyar

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Collaboration is key to helping elearners go the distance


Following on from his podcast appearance, WebEx CEO Subrah Iyar again highlights the importance of collaboration in L&D. 

The elearning market continues to flourish with new companies and courses emerging to meet demand for a range of online training programmes, from business and professional skills through to personal development. Such is its ongoing popularity that a massive 98% of all organisations are predicted to use elearning courses, as part of their learning strategy, this year [1].   

This is not surprising given our changing work patterns. In our busy schedules, elearning provides a way to fit courses around work and home commitments, studying at a time and pace that suits the individual. With an ever-growing number of mobile devices in use by employees, from tablets to smartphones, it also provides learners with new ways to access course materials from wherever they choose and whenever they choose - the workplace, at home, or on the move.    

However one of the biggest challenges with elearning remains, namely: at its heart, learning is a collaborative process, so how do you maintain the elearner’s interest so that they are sufficiently motivated to complete the course? Whereas in the classroom there are plenty of opportunities for face-to-face interaction and teamwork in the classroom, elearning can be a more solitary process.

The good news is that this is changing. Mobile and cloud technologies are being adopted which are reshaping elearning into a more social, collaborative, and engaging experience for the learner. These enable knowledge sharing and real time communication between peers and course practitioners. Ultimately, the adoption of mobile and cloud will lead to the elearning experience more closely replicating the physical classroom. All of which can help elearners to overcome the obstacles of isolation and encourage them to stay the course. 

From isolation to social collaboration 

We have to remember that the social element of the course programme is an essential part of the learning experience and that ultimately, motivation can suffer if you’re studying alone without your peers and tutors to inspire and collaborate with you. 

Classroom-based courses involve knowledge sharing, close interaction and communication between the tutor and learner. Students can discuss and debate the topic, share ideas and notes, and have access to instant feedback from tutors for clarification or more detailed explanations of any aspect of their course. If your attention fades in the classroom, you have your peers and tutor to inspire and encourage you; what happens when you’re studying alone? We’re social beings by nature and removing the element of human interaction can make it more difficult to stay focussed for the duration of the course.  

Elearning programmes can be hugely effective, but we need to recognise these challenges and facilitate a more enriching, engaging experience to help learners to achieve better results and to reduce any sense of isolation.    

A new approach to elearning is challenging the status quo and encouraging collaboration to help learners overcome the obstacles of isolation and disengagement. Tools are emerging in LMSs which enable learners to work together on documents, share notes quickly and easily with their group, annotate or screen share or communicate via audio or video, all in real time. 

These tools create the feeling of a ‘virtual classroom’, by replicating some of the key elements that learners would benefit from in the traditional classroom environment. This can be particularly valuable for employees that have become accustomed to working on team-based projects and communicating with their colleagues via IM or Skype. Embedding similar communication functionality into the course facilitates improved peer collaboration and problem solving by group communication.  

Virtual classrooms with built-in interactivity, such as videoconferencing, whiteboarding and screen sharing, enable meaningful participation from all users regardless of location. The overall effectiveness of global workforce training delivered online is increased even further when the online courses have social communication and collaboration capabilities built in. These include group messaging, document sharing and annotation for project teams, and on-demand conferencing for study groups.

This more collaborative approach to learning will be particularly important for engaging millennials who have bypassed using email in favour of communicating via messaging apps outside of the workplace, from WhatsApp to Facebook.

In addition to enabling peer interactions, this social collaborative approach also means that learners have improved access to instant communication with their course tutors. It can reinvent the elearning experience from a one-way process to a more rewarding two-way or multi-party dialogue.  

The bottom line is that a lack of physical contact with peers and colleagues should not be a barrier to course engagement and completion. By focusing on delivering the social and collaborative aspects of courses by leveraging mobile and cloud collaboration technologies, elearning can become a more interactive experience, and as rewarding as any traditional, face-to-face course. 

Subrah Iyar is CEO of Moxtra  

[1] The Ambient Insight 2012 – 2017 Worldwide Mobile Learning Report 


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