Online Training
Opportunities and Challenges

Woman on a laptop on a park bench

Online training is an increasingly viable alternative or complement to classroom training. For those new to online training it might seem both exciting and daunting in equal measure, so let's take a look at some of the opportunities it presents as well as the challenges that you might encounter.

Hang on, what IS online training?

Online training goes by a lot of names and definitions. Some names you might hear for it are distance learning, computer based training, online learning, eLearning, mLearning (mobile learning) and asynchronous training. But at its heart, online training involves the delivery of training via the Internet.

For a few years, the hot new thing was Massive Open Online Courses (or MOOCs) which generally take the form of traditional college courses placed online, with students watching video lectures and teachers providing help in forums or via email. MOOCs have somewhat fallen out of favour these days after failing to deliver on the massive hype they were accompanied by (completion rates tend to be very low), but there are still those who are adamant they can work.

Learning Management Systems (LMSs) allow you to deliver courses to your learners and track their progress. There are many LMSs out there (and one more coming soon) all with different functionality and at different price points. With so much to choose from, it can be daunting to pick the right system and so it's vital to know what you want to get out of online training.

Online training can also be delivered with plain video conferencing software such as Skype or screen sharing software such Windows Desktop Sharing, with the teacher on one end and the learner on the other. It can even be used in conjunction with printed manuals! You don't have to go completely high tech to get a lot of value out of online training.

The opportunities

Because online training is delivered over the internet, there is no requirement for your learners to be in the same room. This opens up training to learners who otherwise wouldn't be able to access it due to geographical, physical or travel constraints. It also enables training away from the desktop, such as on-the-job training using tablets.

This flexibility also means that your learners can access the course materials at any time, meaning that they can continue their study or revise the day's content after hours as well as fitting study around work and lifestyle commitments. Learners can also work through the course at a pace that suits themselves. Learners taking longer to grasp a concept can go back and do extra study without feeling self-conscious or slowing down faster learners and faster learners can work through at an accelerated rate.

The range of media supported by modern browsers means that your online course can support richer audio and video enabled content than a printed book can. Use this judiciously though, as not everyone learns well this way and not every situation is enhanced with multimedia!

Learning delivered through an LMS comes with the ability to gain greater insight into how learners are doing and guide them through areas where they might not be doing so well. Rather than waiting until the end of a course to deliver and mark a test, you can gain immediate feedback from interactive tests and automatic marking and see exactly where learners are up to in each course and where they've spent the most time.

An LMS also delivers the opportunity to reduce burdensome compliance tracking by securely storing student data, allowing students to update their data themselves, and producing automatic reports, giving you more time to do what we're all here to do - teach!

The challenges

As hard as it may be to imagine, sitting in front of a computer is not everyone's idea of excitement! Motivating learners may be harder with online training, and requires engaging content and an outcome that the learners will be eager to work toward.

Dealing with people remotely can also be a challenge, especially when an internet connection is slow. It may be necessary to ditch Skype for email and also make a more concerted effort to make sure that learners are keeping up with their workload and remaining engaged.

When training in IT, it can be difficult to fit a browser window next to an application window. Ideally the learner undertaking IT training online would have access to a two monitor setup, a wide-screen monitor or a tablet or phone that they could use next to their desktop machine but this is not always achievable.

And of course, your learners must have a basic idea of how to use a computer. It's no good using online training to teach basic computing concepts such as opening programs and browsing the Internet.

When is online training a good idea?

Given the above opportunities and challenges, when do we feel that online training should be used?

Online training can be very effective in a business situation, where used as a tool enabling employees to do their job more effectively or just to improve their skillset. Having opportunities to learn can also make for increased employee satisfaction.

For trainers who want to reach more learners in a wider area or who may have other commitments they need to work around, online training is a valuable tool.

For those who want to enhance their face-to-face training, online training can be used alongside it to provide some of the benefits (after-hours study, rich content and learner insight) while not missing out on the benefits provided by the classroom experience. This is known as blended learning and has become more and more popular in recent years.

Whatever you choose to do, it's worth being aware of the changes occurring in online training day by day.