Living, as I do, on the West Coast of Scotland in that windy season leading into Spring, brings resilience to mind. Presently we are clocking down the alphabet of storms from Storm Ciara to Jorge in a matter of weeks. Admittedly we have given F,G,H and I a miss, but that is still 4 storms in 4 weeks. The travel disruption these have caused are trivial compared to the ongoing crisis with the Covid 19 virus, currently building into, what seems, an inevitable pandemic. Mobility is a big part of my role in leadership development and much of this is to facilitate business learning and education. Online learning is increasingly seen as the solution to the increasing business continuity challenge in corporate education. With the climate change crisis, there is increasing pressure to reduce air travel to support training events. However, we must be careful not simply swap traditional with online learning as if they were the same thing. They differ greatly in how they facilitate learning, and that is worth bearing in mind when developing any kind of learning.
Pedagogy is the term used to describe theories of learning. It is important to understand how people learn when considering how to switch content over to online formats. It is also worth bearing in mind that individuals learn differently too, which is why multiple formats are usually more effective than a single one. When discussing the benefits of online with clients, I am often confronted with a popular view that online is a a cheap and convenient alternative to traditional learning methods. Cheap but not as good. This is symptomatic of the dangers of considering the two methods as simple alternatives. The development of online learning has also left a lasting legacy. Early online learning aimed to replace traditional teaching by, for instance, creating videos of trainers or instructors. As online has developed, technology has improved online platforms; creating immersive and interactive formats, which include some video. At the same time, trainers will often use online tools within their presentations to break up the ubiquitous power point presentation. In some ways, both formats are converging but in very important ways, they are diverging too.
For instance, I would not personally, video a presentation and place it online as an alternative for traditional learning or training. The only thing worse than 40 minutes of power point is a 40 minute video of a power point. Online platforms allow learners to escape that tedious environment, breaking up the didactic teaching with interactive content and plenty of breaks between chunks of content. On the other hand, humans work best in social environments, they are attentive to tone of voice and body language. This is very hard to convey in any online environment. Workshops and collaboration can happen online, but there is no doubt physical gatherings are more natural and intuitive.
Another form of learning that is especially powerful, is to get out of the office, conference or classroom all together and get outdoors. Outdoors learning offers powerful and memorable experiences which can crown any learning experience. Learning interventions which combine all three methods can be very effective.
As a rule of thumb, most learning involves some degree of context setting and groundwork, followed by discussion and ideally practice to consolidate the knowledge. The groundwork may be the largest chunk of a course and online platforms are an ideal platform for this. That leaves the interesting discussion phase for traditional gatherings, followed by getting out of the classroom for practical consolidation. Multiple formats meet different needs in the learning process. Online can do a lot of the heavy lifting and, at the same time, reduce cost and build in resilience in any learning programme. Simply thinking of online as a poor but cheap alternative is to miss a world of opportunities.