Converting to a Distance Learning Format

Consider the following scenario: A training manager has been frustrated with the quality of communication among trainees in his face-to-face training sessions and wants to try something new. With his supervisor’s permission, the trainer plans to convert all current training modules to a blended learning format, which would provide trainees and trainers the opportunity to interact with each other and learn the material in both a face-to-face and online environment. In addition, he is considering putting all of his training materials on a server so that the trainees have access to resources and assignments at all times.
With this scenario in mind, and taking into consideration your Learning Resources, reflect on the following:

What are some of the pre-planning strategies the trainer needs to consider before converting his program?
What aspects of his original training program could be enhanced in the distance learning format?
How will his role, as trainer, change in a distance learning environment?
What steps should the trainer take to encourage the trainees to communicate online?

WHAT TO PREPARE FOR
The task that this instructional designer has asked to complete is not an easy one and can be very problematic if not properly planned out. When considering converting a classroom training class to a blended learning class you have a great deal of information to consider. All online learning course design is not as easy as just taking your class and putting in a power point and recording your voice. You cannot just decide to take out activities you would do in the classroom and have the learners read instead or watch a video either.
When converting a classroom course to a blended course the instructional designer will need to completely redesign the class to still teach the concepts and skills that the client wants their people to learn. “The keys to successful distance education are in the design, development, and delivery of instruction, and are not related to geography or time” (Simonson et al, 2012).As an instructional designer designing an online course will need to start with identifying learning outcomes, what do the students need to learn? Has the objectives changed at all from what they were in the classroom due to the blended learning format? Because the learners will be doing both face to face and online learning, the topics can be the same, but the assignments or at least how the assignments are completed will need to change. The assignments and activities are the most crucial to consider before beginning your design because that is the meat and potatoes of the class. Being the class is all online; the content can be too much to squeeze into an online course overloading the learner. “You end up having what they call ‘a course-and-a-half,’ which is a lot more than either the faculty member or students bargained for” (Kelly, 2012). On top of the assignments themselves the instructional designer needs to decide how each lesson will be presented to make it the most effective.

The Instructional designer can enhance some or all of the activities and learning with specific online tools. The latest enhancements in technology can actually improve some of the face to face activities with games and other online activities that you could not normally do in the classroom. Being that communication is the main issue, using online tools allows the trainer to have digital trackers and reports that will help the trainer keep an eye on their progress. Another great aspect is being able to have video conferences and online chats that will make for easier communication outside of class and all of this can be done from a computer to a tablet and even a smartphone.

The trainer’s role will become more of a facilitation role rather than a trainer. Being that much of the activities and learning will be done online. The role of the instructor as far as instruction goes will be limited to coaching and support of the learners. The trainer will need to learn how to manage his learners at a distance not being able to watch over their shoulders as they work. The trainer will not be able to hold long lectures and will have to cut everything to a more manageable time friendly learning activity because in blended learning you want to save the face to face time for discussing topics either in groups or individually that will lead to the feedback and coaching. When instructors try to convert their face-to-face lectures to the online format, the lectures often are less effective. “They don’t translate well. They’re not effective for students, because who wants to sit there and listen; There are too many distractions” (Kelly, 2012).

Being that it is really easy to disconnect from others in a blended/online learning course the trainer needs to have mandatory times that the learners have to communicate so at the very least they can get used to it. “Aligning the desired learner outcomes, instructional activities, and assessment tools provides clear expectations and a sense of relevance for student participation” (Simonson, M., et al. 2012). Setting proper expectations that participation is required and that the trainer will be commenting on the discussions personally will help participation. Another great way to do this is by making your peers you first resource. If you have a question, you must reach out to them first before contacting the trainer unless it is something related to a specific instruction.

All in all this conversation is challenging, but not unattainable if you prepare properly. Understanding your curriculum and what you outcomes need to be. Know your audience and how they learn so that you can provide the proper support. Facilitate all aspects of the class at a distance and leave the instruction to the activities and online work so that you as the trainer can watch and assess from a distance properly.

References:
Simonson, M., Smaldino, S., Albright, M., & Zvacek, S. (2012). Teaching and learning at a
distance: Foundations of distance education (5th ed.) Boston, MA: Pearson

Kelly, R. (2012, August 24). Blended Learning Course Design Mistakes to Avoid. Retrieved
August 18, 2014, from http://www.facultyfocus.com/articles/instructional-design/blended-learning-course-design-mistakes-to-avoid/

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