Having elected to use eLearning as the method for delivering education, it’s easy to get lost in the technology of the Do-It-Yourself ethic of self-guided learning. But trainees can’t do everything themselves – and even the best designed learning platform is no match for the personal touch of a dedicated mentor or instructor, to smooth over the rough patches.
That’s where human instructors play a part, and why eLearning courses should be designed with the human element in mind. In this article, we’ve assembled some tips to help course designers and instructors to become true facilitators in the eLearning process.
Instructors Knowing the Course Itself
Obviously, instructors should be fully qualified to teach in the area of knowledge which the course covers. This doesn’t have to mean a formal qualification like a degree, especially in fields where practical or on-the-job experiences are the required skills. But they should be deeply knowledgeable in their subject, and able to assist learners to acquire this knowledge, in an eLearning environment.
With training typically including a mix of written, audible, and video content, the course instructors should be familiar with all of this content themselves, so that they can guide the learners through it as the training progresses. This puts the onus on course designers to make the planned course content readily available to instructors to study and view, before the sessions begin.
Understanding the Training Environment
eLearning usually takes place in an online context, with little or no physical contact between instructors and trainees. For teachers who are used to one-on-one interactions with their students, the remote or distance learning approach to eLearning can be a cultural shock. Yet to effectively assist the learners, instructors must be able to make use of the technology and methods of the online medium.
One simple way of preparing for this is by organising an online training programme for the instructors, themselves. This will help familiarise them with the technology that will be used during the eLearning course, and will help them to develop their preferred methods of adapting this technology to their own teaching styles.
Course videos and other visual content aside, an online learning environment can be a faceless place, for the student. So it’s useful if the course instructor can provide a face for them, to connect what they are learning to a recognised source of personal advice and guidance.
Instructors should establish a readily accessible presence online (e.g. using video conferencing, instant messaging, and the like) and be available for consultation and intervention on group and personal levels, to facilitate the learning process. They should also set the tone for the course – one which encourages participation and interaction with the course material and with other learners.
Joining the Conversation
Discussion forums can provide a link between the course participants, encouraging the exchange of ideas, collaboration on projects, and the human element of direct interaction with others.
A well-designed learning environment should provide ample opportunity for these discussions to take place. And an effective course instructor should play an active part in these exchanges: mediating and guiding the conversations so that they allow learners their freedom of expression and opinion, while advancing the educational objectives of the training course.
Plotting Separate Courses
No two learners are exactly the same. Some will take readily to the concept of self-guided learning, while others may come from a background in which more traditional educational techniques are the norm.
The course content and delivery mechanisms must be versatile enough to accommodate all kinds of approaches to gaining knowledge. And the instructors must be capable of providing the kind of assistance which they perceive that an individual learner most requires. This means using eLearning tools and resources to help steer learners over the obstacles they encounter, monitoring their progress, and offering support and guidance as and when they need it.
Evaluating What’s Past
At the end of a course, it’s a good idea to offer learners the opportunity to assess their experience during the training, and their opinions as to how it was conducted. This should include an assessment of the performance of the course instructors.
By studying the results of these end of course surveys, it’s possible to identify the parts of the training that were most successful, and those subjects that might be amended or left out altogether, if unsuccessful. On top of this, the learners’ views on how the instructors performed can assist the facilitators in improving their performance, in future.
Tools and Tactics
There are several tools available online, for designing and delivering end of course surveys. For instance, Google Docs provides one, as does SurveyMonkey. And for instructors, there are a number of online training resources and programmes in eLearning course design.
The Importance of Being Flexible
There’s no hard and fast set of rules, for being an effective course designer or instructor. But these recommendations may help:
- Keep learning yourself, and expand your range of interests.
- Identify your strengths, and capitalise on them.
- Work to improve on your weaknesses.
- Look beyond formal teaching methods, as the online medium demands much more than this.
- Stay up to date, with developments in eLearning methods and technologies.
- Try to develop an understanding of your learners: their strengths, weaknesses, and preferred learning styles.
- Be passionate about the knowledge you’re trying to impart. This passion will communicate itself to your learners.