Blending online instructional methods
I sincerely miss the old buzzword ‘multimedia.’ Many of the corporate education fads lately have been focused on just one approach in isolation. A curriculum of just videos is mind numbing. Whole jobs taught by “microlearning” often leaves learners with few durable skills. Humans crave variety and novelty and they need it to learn a variety of skills. Multimedia promised variety as a premise.
With the pandemic instructional designers have been limited to synchronous Virtual Instructor Led Training (VILT) or asynchronous elearning. Institutions have leaned on their strengths to make one or the other happen as a short term fix. As we’re looking towards what education might look like in the future it’s likely that a blend of these two will be more effective in the long run.
Cognitive load is much higher in VILT because it requires more mental processing to watch for non-verbal cues. As a learning designer I really care about that because if you’re spending time thinking about various gestures people are making you’re not processing what’s being taught as effectively. There are tricks of course. You can add in well being breaks to allow people to stretch or invite people to go audio only for stretches. Even with all this taken together people need to take a break.
Similarly elearning has always had the problem of users trying to click through it as fast as humanly possible. Designers have abused users’ trust by making elearning long and boring. One of my early mentors in training was a big fan of Gagne’s 9 events of instruction and even though I learned it in the context of classroom learning it applies to elearning as well. Many elearning fails to gain the users attention in an authentic way, (Gange’s first event) and the elearning just jumps into content. Designers have tried various tricks over the years like not letting you finish a course unless you spent an amount of time on it or trying to slow the learner down by hiding text under flip cards, pop ups and tabs.Those tricks are frustrating to learners and don’t improve the learning experience.
However, blending these VILT and elearning is using the best of both and downplaying the worst of either. A common way to blend learning from K-12 is the “flipped” classroom method. That is to have lecture online and spend class time working through problems like students used to do homework. Why spend 20 minutes lecturing over video conference when you can edit that down to a 5 minute snappy video in your elearning. Learners can pause, rewind and take time to reflect without being overloaded by video interaction. You can pose some formative quiz questions to stimulate thought and gather evaluation data on all learners and then leave the discussion to VILT. Learners will have some level of accountability to their peers to participate in discussions or solve problems together especially if the same cohort meets over multiple sessions.
Another blending strategy is to make the curriculum project or problem based. That is that in the VILT classroom the facilitator poses problems for learners to try and solve and gives access to elearning, knowledge based articles, videos etc… to come up with strategies to solve the problem. The facilitator then acts like a coach to help direct learners to materials, give feedback and set learners on the right path. This is a good approach if the job or skill sets that are being taught heavily uses a knowledge base or a set of standard operating procedures to solve various problems. You can use that for skills like having senior managers solve MBA style case study problems all the way to call center agents troubleshooting hypothetical customer issues.
A third approach might be a self paced distance learning format. Where the curriculum is fully online with a variety of training resources. The VILT portions could be pick-up groups of learners getting together to help each other through various problems that they face in courses. That could be supported by managers or faculty helping learners to set goals and hold the learner accountable to what it is that they’re trying to learn. This approach is good for departments that don’t have much in the way of headcount but find that they can’t make elearning that is engaging enough on its own to really drive learning the way they want to.
My hope for the next few years is that training departments don’t abandon online tools and they don’t abandon methods of the past but rather blend them together in clever ways to get to better and better learning outcomes relying on the strengths of each method and downplaying the disadvantages of each.