The internet has changed just about every aspect of the way associations deliver education. The rush to move training courses online happened at such a furious pace, there was little time to assess the impact it would have on learners.
Luckily, with so many online courses now completed, there are plenty of examples to study. Material that succeeds online has distinct traits compared to those that benefit by having traditional, in-person instructors. Using these findings can help determine if you should hold your course online, or in a classroom.
It should be no surprise that the number one factor that makes a course successful online or in-person comes down to the course content. And this isn’t just limited to what’s on the page. Your decision-making process should also include how learners retain and apply the content. Some material is best learned by an individual at their own pace, and some topics need group interaction to be effectively learned.
Here are three questions to ask to help decide whether to offer a course online or in-person.
What amount of learner interaction does my course require?
The amount of natural interaction required for students to advance through the course is an important first step in determining if it should be offered online or in-person. Technology has enabled chat rooms, forums and video conferencing to simulate a classroom environment for many courses. If your course requires basic interaction between students, online communications can fill that need.
But what if your topic requires learners to work together to solve problems in real time? This is best facilitated in a face-to-face environment. Take a CPR course, for example. As good as our computer technology is, there is still no way to simulate the type of interaction needed for people to work together to save a life. Courses that train people to work closely as a team still benefit from actually being in the room together in one location at the same time.
Does my course material rely on in-person, instructor-led support?
Some topics not only involve student interactions, but also rely heavily on instructor/learner interactions. An example of this kind of course is a food safety course. A computer simulation could replicate a safe food-handling procedure, but in reality, the instructor needs to be present to observe how actual food is handled. That is something that can’t be simulated on a computer. If your course deals with a topic like math, this real-world instructor supervision may not be as essential.
What value do face-time and networking provide to my learner?
It’s important to consider not only the effective way to teach your course content, but what is the most effective way a student will learn the course material? Your course material may be simple to explain, but further discussion could help your learners to take the content you’ve taught them and apply it. A topic like this might be better suited to a workshop format that encourages discussion between the learner and the instructor, and the learner’s peers. It is hard to create that same kind of free exchange of ideas unless everyone is actually located in the same time and space.
The answers to these questions should provide you with a good idea if your content is well-suited for an online course, or could benefit from in-person training. There is, however, a third option, blended learning, which combines elements of both.
Blended learning: The best of both worlds
In a blended learning course, there is some amount of classroom instruction combined with some form of online course materials. In this situation, an instructor led training course could assign online content for learners to review before they get to class. Class time can then focus on the specific tasks that are most beneficial to complete in person. Or, online content can be used after an instructor led training course to expand on what was learned in class. This can take the form of a video, or interactive experience. A test can be administered online as well to make sure the concepts that were learned in the classroom were completely understood by the learner.
Asking and answering these three questions should start to give you an idea of whether your course would benefit from having an in-person training component. If you have a course that has historically been taught online or in-person, ask the course “graduates” for their feedback. Would the in-person course have benefited from having more online independent study available? Or, for an online-only course, would the material have been better absorbed through interactions with an instructor or other learners? Finding the right balance for your course is an important step in creating effective training courses.