Addressing the Issue of Isolation
Years ago I had an instructor who, in response to a request for clarification, would simply repeat his earlier instructions in a louder voice, as if volume had been the impediment to comprehension.
I have come to understand the value of appropriate and meaningful responses when help is requested, and the frustration of limited options or repetition as available solutions. Like others, I now surround myself with assistive electronic gadgets, such as smart phones, GPS navigation aids and iPads to help me get me the help I need, in real time, in the format that best suits my needs.
The exception to personalized, on-demand help is in corporate online training courses, where the student learns in isolation and has limited access to supportive or assistive elements in a course. Tools found in the classroom, in our cars, or clipped to our belts that provide assistance are missing from the online training environment.
Is an environment in which you can’t ask a question or request help really an invitation to learn?
Consider the simplicity of the Amazon Kindle. If, while reading an electronic book, you encounter a word you don’t understand, you leave the reading environment, select one of two available dictionaries, look up the definition of the word, and return to the book with little effort. This is a smart solution for word challenges gives us the potential to increase our understanding and enjoyment.
The role of online computer-based training is to transfer knowledge in order to help us understand new concepts or gain new skills. Dictionaries or glossaries are of less value in these instances.
What is the Solution to Isolation?
When help is needed to clarify challenging ideas, we may seek a secondary resource to present the concept in an alternate way or format to facilitate comprehension. In a classroom this resource is the Teacher. In business it is the Mentor.
The role of the Instructional Designer (I.D.) is to create a course where information is structured and presented in a manner that facilitates learning and meets a training goal. To further require the I.D. to predict where individual learners might have difficulty in comprehending specific concepts and then create additional supportive options to address those potential learning issues is unfair and unrealistic.
A design or approach that presents with clarity to one person or group may be completely confusing to others. Learning styles and challenges have been recognized in the classroom for decades. These differences do not represent intelligence, but do need to be addressed for learning to take place.
e-Learning developers can look to the classroom for a better solution. Teachers can’t predict where problems in a lesson plan will occur. Instead they watch challenges reveal themselves during the presentation and then respond accordingly. Instructors allow students to interrupt the flow and request clarification to support individual or group comprehension. The tool? A raised hand. The same tool is available in presentation software such as WebEx to allow a participant to ask a question. The tool? A raised hand icon.
Web-based training needs an engaged observer in order to respond to the needs of all students and ultimately meet the goal of comprehension. We need an on-demand solution for the online student so they can request assistance and break the isolationism of the corporate e-Learning environment. We need a way of letting the student know that although they are self-directing, they are not alone in their education experience.
In short, we need a Teacher.