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Wednesday, November 04, 2009

Distance Learning - What You Need, What it Takes and What You Gain!

Distance learning convinced me a long time ago now. Certainly the subject is not new. After all, if people are already using video conferencing in their company for online meetings, why not for training? Actually it has already been more than 10 years since offers appeared for learning languages by phone. And there are lots of reasons to like distance learning. Here are a few of them:
  • You do it where you want
  • You do it when you want
  • You save the transportation time
  • There are no commodities issues and costs

Of course people would say it is always better to have a trainer next to you. But why? I still haven't found any reason. For the social aspect? Well by saving time on your training and making it more flexible you will actually gain time for other things like participating in social activities, seeing your friends etc.

And the truth is that, with the development of Internet technology, it just becomes better and easier. A good virtual classroom has exactly the tools that a tutor needs to teach online. Video and audio ensure communication, and the whiteboard works perfectly for collaboration.

Directly integrated in the whiteboard there is the possibility of displaying images, switching between different layers, even playing a video... all this on top of all the things you can naturally do with a normal blackboard: annotate, erase etc.

Moreover the session is easily recordable, and it needs no costly hardware. A simple computer with a headset and an internet connection is sufficient.

Despite all this, the use of the virtual classroom for training sessions is not yet totally popular. There are a few reasons for this, and we have noticed that just a few steps can help to remove the barriers.

1. People don't like change

People definitely don't like changes. Even if the virtual classroom brings them a lot of advantages, until they really notice it, it can be extremely difficult to convince them. Based on our experience, I would like to give two suggestions when the learners are not ready for this new step:

  • Make the first one or two appointments offline. We have noticed that the fact of building a relationship between the tutor and the learner before starting the online sessions greatly helps people who are not yet experienced with learning online
  • Use a tutor who is very familiar with online tools

2. Tutors are not used to these tools

A short experience has showed us that a big part of the problem comes from the tutor. Indeed who can imagine that a tutor who has never used a virtual classroom before can actually give a good lesson? Actually a virtual classroom does not take that long to learn. If the interface is intuitive, the tutor can easily start to know all the tools within one hour. Still the tutor needs to find his way around this new method.

Based on our experience, a tutor needs between 5 and 10 hours of online tutoring to start to be totally efficient with the tool. Therefore, a proper training method should be defined. The appropriate time budget should be allocated so that the tutor gets trained in a real session.

3. Technical problems

Technical problems are another barrier for distance training. If the user has to download software, install it, solve problems, he will not easily accept facing the change and the necessity of taking up this new habit.
Our tip: choose a web-based virtual classroom where there is absolutely no software to install. Relying on massive spread plugins like Java or Flash will definitely reduce the problem and maximize compatibility.

Finally if you face a technical problem because of infrastructure (poor internet connection) or because the people don't really know how to use a computer, try using the phone for communication at the beginning, combined with the whiteboard.

What is sure is that after a few hours, tutors and learners will both enjoy this flexible new way of teaching / learning a lot. It is worth it!

Our company has developed a complete learning management system which integrates a web-based virtual classroom. Using the virtual classroom it is possible to give 1 on 1 or 1 on many training sessions, and our platform allows the trainers to easily complete the live training by exercises and content that they or the school create, allowing a great blended learning offer.

If you are interested and wish to test our solution please visit: http://www.espok.org/

We publish other articles on this subject on our blog: http://blog.espok.com/

1 comment:

Robert said...

In recent time online distance learning is gaining popularity among all kind of students who want to upgrade themselves for better career opportunities. This learning mode provides very flexibility and freedom and that’s why so many people prefer this mode. One of the main benefit of online distance learning program is that you can learn from home without investing a large amount of money.