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Design Learner Success Into Your Curriculum

By Jeff May / March 2010

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Do you remember the first time you baked a cake, or drove a car, or built a deck, or installed a piece of software? Were you on your own or was there someone there to show you, assist you, help and support you, encourage you?

Think of a time when you were doing something for the first time and you weren't sure what to do. Do you recall your feelings of frustration, and then finally relief when you had someone to turn to for help?

As facilitators of e-learning in corporate environments, it is our responsibility to do what we can to ensure that both the organization and the individual learners gain the maximum benefit from all learning or training initiatives. We have a responsibility to ensure that as many success factors as possible are in play.

Discussions about e-learning in corporate training environments attract the attention of executives interested in addressing escalating training costs and in using technology to train employees. The implied e-learning promise is that efficiencies realized through training will go straight to the bottom line while revenue growth resulting from training will go straight to the top line.

5 Tips for Supporting e-Learners
1. Understand e-Learners: Have prospective e-learners complete a short questionnaire or participate in a one-on-one interview.
2. On-Site Champion: Have an in-house e-learning champion sends the message that the company or organization supports the employees' online learning efforts.
3. In-Class Orientation: Before starting a training or learning program, bring people together with similar computer backgrounds for an in-class orientation.
4. Management Support: E-learners should have the confidence that their managers support and encourages their e-learning efforts. Trust mechanisms have to be built into the online learning experience.

5. Time: Develop individual learning plans that take into account scheduling challenges and time demands.

While true that training efficiencies can be realized from the use of e-learning in corporate environments, it is also true that there can be significant up-front investments. The price of failure can be high, resulting in future training initiatives being given a rough ride. If e-learning is not perceived as a positive experience by the learners, they could disengage from the process entirely. And if the bottom line investment in e-learning initiatives at the corporate level is significant, the cost of learner disengagement has the potential to be significantly higher.

Using Your Trainers
For new e-learners, the logistics can be daunting. If you have taken the time to understand who your e-learners are, and if you have identified those individuals who may be at risk as a result of their lack of experience with computers and online environments, having a go-to person available for them to turn to can make the difference between a frustrating experience that will discourage them from trying again, and a good experience that will have them excited about exploring future learning opportunities. Even the best designed e-learning programs cannot compensate for a helping hand that is responsive and capable of assisting new learners when needed—a process to support new e-learners.

One of the key challenges to overcome when implementing an e-learning curriculum is what is known as the "if you build it, they will come" philosophy (à la 1989's Field of Dreams). Just because your organization has invested in an e-learning option, doesn't mean that it will succeed. A few posters promoting it here and there, or perhaps an online tutorial, will not automatically make it a resounding success. Our role as facilitators of learning, whether in-school or in-corporation, is about helping learners make necessary connections.

Recently, an impartial study conducted at a Fortune 500 multi-national organization revealed that employees enrolled in e-learning felt they had little support from management to learn during working hours. The employees felt they were receiving mixed messages. Although the company was providing resources for the employees to develop their professional skills, and hence be better at what they do on the job, it also sent the message the e-learning should be completed on the employees' own time, at home or during a lunch hour. The employees were discouraged before they even began the learning process.

Trust mechanisms have to be built into the online learning experience. A learner should have the confidence that the organization supports and encourages e-learning efforts.

In-Class Orientation
Having an in-class orientation, when possible, is one method of building that trust mechanism into the online learning experience and in preparing new e-learners for success.

While it may seem counterintuitive to launch a new e-learning initiative by first having an traditional face-to-face workshop, such an undertaking will allow for learners of similar backgrounds (i.e., familiarity and comfort with computers and the online world) to work with the organization's e-learning champion to approach the program positively and with a plan for success.

Armed with information about the learners, including each person's level of computer literacy (there are many people who know how to use the software required for their job, and no more), you can bring together people who have similar levels of experience for the in-class orientation.

One of the objectives of the in-class orientation is to support the learners as they become comfortable using the portal. Walk the learners through the whys of the e-learning program first, and then help them log-in and complete a short, single-module e-learning offering. Be patient, answer questions, and be supportive.

Work with learners to set e-learning goals and objectives that are SMART: specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and timed. If fashioned properly, the learning goals set will allow e-learners to focus and generate a feeling of success. Success will breed more success and excitement, resulting in a win for both the learner and the organization. Discouragement will breed failure and discontent, resulting in resources being wasted needlessly.

Let My People Learn!
Managers, with the support of the organization, must be willing to let their people learn. Better still, both employees and employer must be willing to contribute to the learning process for it to be successful.

Time should be built into the workday to accommodate regularly-scheduled e-learning periods, for example, every Tuesday from 11a.m. to noon. Employees must commit to investing their time, too, such as being willing to extend the 11-to-noon schedule through their lunch hour to 1p.m. A simple activity plan with built-in check points will ensure that a schedule like this works and is followed.

The objective is for both managers and employees to see and experience the benefit of providing paid time to develop skills that will assist moving the team and organization forward.

E-learning initiatives won't be successful on their own, in the same way that a face-to-face instructor-led workshop can't function without an instructor. Learning is about making connections, and our role as facilitators is to help learners to make those connections. Be careful not to let the e-learning mode of delivery lull you into a sense of set-it-and-forget-it complacency. Continue to reach out and connect with learners to help them succeed, regardless of the mode of learning being used.


  • Tue, 06 Jul 2010
    Post by Tina Leone

    I have been blessed to work in a school that has been filled with all sorts of technology. Each classroom has a promethean board, ELMO and mobile lab cart that hold 10 computers. We have also gone tech-mod and all of our stand along computers have been upgraded as well as the software. I find it absolutely amazing that we can use these technologies with the Web 2.0 tools available to give students the opportunity for e-learning lessons. I feel e-learning may be more effective at the upper grades due to maturity and safety on the internet. However, if incorportated correctly, e-learning is just as effective in the lower grades. I agree that for college level course, at least one face-to-face lesson is "mandatory" to help create relationships. It also offers students the opportunity to ask questions before hand on the e-learning portals that will be used.


  • Fri, 02 Jul 2010
    Post by Rebecca S.

    New online tools and resources are developing every minute, and Ive been looking for ways that I could bring some of the technology into the daily routine in my class. I have considered a regularly-scheduled e-learning period, but liked even more the idea of having an activity with built-in check points. That way, the process is self-regulated and my attention can go to questions or concerns that arise once the assignment has been undertaken.

    Also, the SMART acronym as a method of creating realistic e-learning goals for the student and teacher is genius.

  • Wed, 28 Apr 2010
    Post by Gwendolyn Jeffries

    I am always looking for ways to implement technology in the classroom. This is an interesting topic on getting information out about e-learning and how to introduce it in your curriculum. I think this would be great for high school stduents in the area where I live who have to take classes via the web during the summer or to make up a class to graduate. The on-line tutor is really great.

  • Tue, 25 Aug 2009
    Post by Barbara Dieu

    Education definitely needs to rethink itself. What surprises me again and again, however, is how all involved feel that urge to be labeled one thing or another. It's the consumer mind heritage, I suppose.

  • Sat, 31 Jan 2009
    Post by Alex Kaufman

    I''ve read about edupunk and thought I understood it until reading this article. There are elements of my own vision that resonate with the Edupunk DIY ethic, and so I am glad that this is being discussed. However, the sense in which this article misses the point is that it deals with a classroom context. How many times do educators need to be reminded that education happens outside the classroom and outside the any institutional or formal context whatsoever. This is Mark Twain''s educational experience, reading free library books - which I refer to as "self-education". If you have a situation where a single designated instructor is "educating" (ie - dumping his thoughts hierarchically into a bunch of student buckets), then you''re missing the point of where we''re headed. Education has always been about accreditation and verification of learning activities. Accrediting self-education has never been practical before, so we invented schools to formalize learning - and decided to call it education. Step out of the box of "attendance" "school" and "tuition" and understand that a staggering volume of learning is going on every day, unaccredited, among millions of people outside of the classroom. The idea of a classroom, bricks and mortar or virtual, is old social tech - new social tech means a Internet-empowered, fully-accredited, self-educating free-agent learners with no strings attached - and who are free to associate and dissociate from diffuse international online communities as they please. Oh, and did I mention they''ll want to do this on their own schedules and virtually for free...

  • Mon, 29 Sep 2008
    Post by Lisa Neal Gualtieri

    If you decide to have your students blog, you can ask them to also post periodic summaries. Another suggestion is to have students summarize another student''s posts. Either way, they learn from the experience - and probably become better writers - and you can focus your time on reading the summaries.

  • Wed, 07 Sep 2005
    Post by Richard Thall

    Your comments are either based upon invalid assumptions about asynchronous production or pure conjecture. How about getting some science behind this? In addition, you failed to address the issue of time shifting for world-wide audiences. I''d be happy to take or join the other side of this debate.