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E-learning – A trainer’s experience


As part of my own training to facilitate online learning I have recently completed an e-tutoring course, these are some thoughts based on my experience.

Pre-course commencement

An E-trainer should start planning a course in advance; much of the material can be re-used for subsequent courses. An E-trainer is often required to act as a mentor and to guide the learners through the course, the learners could be undertaking a variety of related courses, the courses may be different lengths and learners could be starting and finishing them at different times. The E-trainer must ensure that they finish each course, and provide them with support and encouragement to start a new course. An E-trainer must provide a course plan, stating clear objectives, a course guide with a checkbox enabling learners to monitor own progress, dates and deadlines for completion and guidelines of action to be taken once activities are completed. Materials and tools relevant to course should be forwarded to learners prior to course commencement.

A pre-requisite for online learning is a basic knowledge of using a computer and the Internet. Both trainers and learners should ask themselves if they are competent in such things as:

  • Using basic word-processing techniques
  • Setting up a folder on local disc (hard disc, floppy or network)
  • Highlighting, copying, cutting, pasting, inserting
  • Saving files
  • Composing, opening, replying to and forwarding e-mail messages
  • Sending files as e-mail attachments
  • Opening/downloading and saving received e-mail attachments
  • Creating an e-mail distribution list
  • Selecting and copying text from the web
  • Using search engines to find web sites for research purposes

Teaching Qualities and Tools to use

Experience is the best learning tool, a minimum of an introductory e-training course is highly recommended. This 'hands on' approach for trainers provides a learner's perspective into online learning, particularly in relation to using the Internet and online tools such as message-board and chat.

Qualities required for e-facilitation are not dissimilar to those of classroom-based tuition; many of the theories and principles still apply. Yet, it would be prudent to say that there are additional qualities, essential to e-facilitation, some of which are listed: -

  • Possess excellent planning skills
  • Multi-tasked/excellent juggler
  • Be familiar with the technology/internet
  • Be conversant with message board, chat tools, etiquette
  • To be a technical problem solver (to some degree)
  • Act as an Helpdesk
  • Have good listening skills
  • An e-learner, to be familiar with latest e-learning trends
  • Have a sense of humour
  • Understand learning outcomes
  • A good writer and designer
  • Act as sensor with message board and chat sessions (i.e. offensive material)
  • Innovation/Imagination

In the pre-course period the E-trainer should: -

  • Formulate clearly defined lesson plans
  • Provide self introduction by e-mail - providing a brief personal and career profile
  • Collate and send course plans, guides, notes, templates, links and other useful data to learners – permitting them time to read, understand and be comfortable, prior to course commencement
  • Instruct learners to familiarise themselves with internet tools, accessing message-boards and chat rooms
  • Request learners to provide personal profiles by posting messages on message-board. A good ice-breaker, permitting learners to engender connection with their peers
  • Ensure learners have received, read and understood all documentation by way of e-mail attachments, and assist with any concerns they may express at this stage.

All parties should be familiar with the following terms: -

Synchronous: -
(Person-to-person) as in chat rooms and instant messaging systems, which allow one to one real time conversations (provides immediacy)

Asynchronous: -
A less personal type of communication as used in message-boards (time lapse –read/write at leisure).

Both forms of communication are characteristic to Computer-mediated communication (CMC), which is the practice of using computers for communication. It is another aid or tool for enhancing teaching and learning.

How does CMC differ from traditional learning?

CMC is a combination of the more traditional learning vehicles such as distance learning and classroom based learning. The former by way of correspondence courses such as Open University, where learners use paper, audio and visual communication aids such as videotape, telephone and post. On occasions the learners may have one to one sessions with their lecturers, or attend an in class short session on campus. The latter normally takes place at a pre-ordained venue and time, using a variety of teaching methods and materials, such as College, Evening School and University offering little flexibility to would-be learners.

Alternatively, CMC is distance learning, with advantages over the more conventional types, such as a time, place and pace suitable to all parties. Its constraints are not as structured as classroom learning, adaptations, such as time extensions are easily made. For example, if a learner is unable to attend a designated chat session, it is comparatively simple for an alternative session to be set up. Its immediacy, availability, accessibility and convenience offer busy learners an alternative to the restrictions of classroom based learning. In business, staff can be trained on site, which prevents time loss, is more cost effective and less disruptive than having staff trained outside.

Throughout the course – learner well-being

Once the course is underway until its completion, the e-trainer must be aware of everything that is happening with learners. They must guide learners to lesson content, provide constructive feedback, support and reassurance throughout.

A potential negative side to online learning is a lack of face-to-face contact, denying all body language; hence the E-trainer needs to develop additional sensory and monitoring skills. An E-trainer must be fully aware of the current technical trends, and thus aware of potential problems for learners.

E learning is rapidly evolving, consequently this can instigate technical problems when accessing message boards and chat rooms, or possible down time (some facilities may not be available). The course trainer should make provision for this, and be able to take swift and remedial action, ensuring all learners are aware actions to take. It is a good idea to make learners aware of this possibility before they start the course, this way they are not taken unawares. Learners should be made aware of helpdesk facilities, optional possibilities or help they may seek. The trainer should also have a contingency plan to counteract possible problems.

Some learners may feel lost in this alien environment; needless to say the trainer’s support throughout this and other key stages is crucial, encouraging perseverance.

Checking for understanding

The trainer must ensure that all learners understand and demonstrate an active understanding of the importance in using all available means of communicating and networking. Distance and computer-based learning can create feelings of isolation; learners should be encouraged to build an online community. Without regular conferencing learners risk becoming victims to falling behind, loss of motivation, temptation to delay working on assignments and/or attending chat sessions, and losing touch with their group. Many online learners are looking for a convenient and easy way to fit further education into their lives. They need to understand the importance of self-motivation and the need to work within the designated parameters.

Possible guidelines: -

  • Is the learner submitting work?
  • What is the quality of the work?
  • Is learner attending chat sessions?
  • Is learner writing and responding to message board?
  • Is learner communicating with you and other learners?
  • Summary

    Prior to having taken part in an e-training course it was a difficult concept to visualise, and my personal feeling is that trying to conduct an online training course without some kind of experience would be a little like a non-driver teaching someone to drive.

    Online learning is a very exciting educational revolution, the repercussions and possible outcomes of which we can only try to envisage.

    Does online learning work? It worked for me.

    This article was contributed by Kathleen Hopper, an IT trainer and consultant who previously edited TrainingZONE's IT training pages.


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