Life Imitates Art: When Things Go South in eLearning

Life is full of ironies. In preparation for our webinar titled Going Live: Best Practices in Online Synchronous Training, we had planned to stress that “going live” was much like tightrope walking without a net, and that things can and will go wrong. The point is to be ready for this and to work your way through it. Well, wouldn’t you know it, as the webinar was about to begin, none of the tools that controlled sound appeared on my chairperson’s screen. This is akin to taking off in an airplane and missing half of the controls on your instrument panel. So instead of just talking about what can go wrong in a synchronous learning environment, we were able to demonstrate this (good teaching strategy, eh?).

Luckily, we had Jennifer Hofmann of InSync Training as our special guest expert, and she has seen and done it all with respect to web conferencing. As she rightly pointed out, all that can be done in such situations is to explain to participants what is happening, what we needed the participants to do, and how we would work our way around it, while the technical people worked in the background trying to figure out what went wrong. Never panic, as this solves nothing and only serves to increase the anxiety of participants.

So we soldiered on under less than ideal circumstances and Jennifer was able to share her perspectives on what makes for a productive online synchronous training event:

Planning: Take care to script out fully all aspects of the event by time references, topic, content, learning objective, instructional method, planned interactions, and required media / materials.

Chunking: Online synchronous learning events can be very intense, so do not expect that you can spend the same amount of time as you may with an in-person training event. Do not go any more than two hours per session, or you will begin losing participants’ attention, no matter how engaging your training event.

Interaction: This is important for the success of any training initiative, but even more crucial for online synchronous learning as it is so easy for learners to be distracted by other things at their desks. Doing things such as asking questions, providing problems, gathering opinions, sharing experiences, working on cases, etc., will keep learners engaged.

Collaboration: Learner engagement can also be improved by building in collaborative exercises (e.g. collective brain storming via white boards).

Go With the Flow: Technical glitches will happen. Take these in stride, be ready for them, have back-up plans, let participants know what is happening, and just work your way through as best as you can.

Many webinar participants let us know that they are experimenting with online synchronous learning in their organizations. They are doing so for a range of training challenges such as safety training, product knowledge sessions, system demos, and soft skills training.

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