Generation 3: A New Paradigm for Online Training

Getting started

Imagine this scenario.  A successful trainer, perhaps a subject matter expert, professor, or consultant has been training students for years and well respected in the field.  People say she has great training and materials; she really knows her stuff.  However, sales of programs are diminishing and younger students are not paying attention during long presentations.  The training is not sticking, not creating business results, and managers complain.  The trainer senses a need for online presence seeing competitors using eLearning tools, or she hear students rave about what a great online class they took last semester taught by a younger colleague.

She thinks, “Am I falling behind?”  Company leadership finally makes eLearning a strategic initiative and the senior consultants are seeing the need, nodding heads in agreement; yet wary- “what happens to my face-to-face training and my income?”  Perhaps they are nodding yes at the executive meetings, yet still believing in their hearts “my training can never be delivered online.”

She has been assigned a pilot project to spearhead the effort into eLearning and plans to video the next eight-hour training event, then take syllabi, video, and PowerPoints and put them on line.  The project should be a finished in one to two weeks.  The already-developed content is proven; the book on the subject sold well and contains PowerPoint presentations, simulations, a workbook with exercises, and the videos look great in high definition.  With great content online and search engine optimization in place; so students can find it, the money will roll in through PayPal.  The cost will be much lower, and road time reduced.  The information will flow from the well-designed website through the internet and into the students’ brains.  Life will be good.  This may be a scenario envisioned by many face-to-face trainers, consultants, and school administrators.


Instructional Design Principles

Many people may think it is an easy task to adapt face-to-face training to online delivery.  They think it is simply a matter of making content available on line; however, as mentioned earlier in the research this approach leads to poor learning outcomes.  Consider what creates a fertile environment for effective face-to-face training experiences and what caused desired learning outcomes.  Instructional design principals are essentially the same regardless of how training is delivered.  If social processes are essential to learning, they need to be in online training.


Design, Deliver, Evaluate, Improve Cycle

At this point, the research will make use of a manufacturing analogy, a process based on the plan-do-check-act continuous improvement cycle to help illustrate how trainers can adapt face-to-face content so that it can take advantage of new teaching and learning technologies.  The manufacturing process can be broken into overlapping functions: design, plan the parts; manufacturing, make the parts; quality, ensure the parts are good; and act improve the process.  Design, manufacturing, quality, and improvement, overlap working in a continuous feedback loop.


In training, we will look at similar cycle- design, plan the training to address needs and specify expected learning outcomes; deliver, conduct the training; evaluate, assure quality; and improve, adapt improvements into the training process.  Design, deliver, evaluate, and improve training phases overlap and may not move in a linear progression.  The areas feed each other to create a plan, do, check, act, continuous improvement feedback loop.  The red wedge represents organizational learning, creating standards that help maintain the continuous improvement process and expose problems.

Managers, administrators, and teachers underestimate the time and energy needed to create effective online training.  If you consider an eLearning project entails at least one round of the design, deliver, evaluate, and improve process, you will need to budget more time than one week to the project, much more.  In reality, the process is an endless continuous improvement cycle.


Adapting teaching and learning methods

Adapting teaching and learning methods for web 2.0 technologies identifies four key areas, content, technology tools for learning and teaching, instructional design principles, and the paradigm shift caused by disruptive technology.  Subject matter content, technology tools, and instructional design principles combine to form online teaching and learning methods.  This creates a paradigm shift for many successful teachers and students.  This research will touch on each area starting with the simplest concepts to the more complex.  We will first list available technology tools, identify the need to moderate content, explore and provide examples of how several instructional design principles adapted for online training, and discuss the personal and organizational changes issues that come with paradigm shift.




Technology Tools

To create ELearning content from existing training content, providers will need up-to-date eLearning authoring tools and a place to store and access the content securely online.  Suggested eLearning tools I used in adapting GeoTol Training for online use are found in Appendix D.  This research will not dwell here for it is out of the scope; however, Bonk (2009) in “The World is Open” presents many great examples of web technology that is revolutionizing teaching and learning.


Need to moderate content

This research assumes teachers, trainers, professors, and subject matter experts have already developed proven content that students need, and are ready to adapt their methods to include online teaching tools.  Although content is specific to each subject and training, a common problem emerges for trainers in adapting methods for online delivery.  The problem is not having too little content; it is presenting too much content to the student.  It is akin to trying to sip water from a fire hydrant; presented information is wasted much like the high volume flow of water.

We all can be narcissistic about our work; consider this when posting to a forum.  Forum posters eagerly await likes or comments, or tabulate how many times a post is opened compared to the other posts.  Subject matter experts are no different wanting recognition.  With such attachment to content, it is hard not to include every beautiful detail in the online course.  The tendency is to try to cover everything, fit everything in, delivering too much content.  However, this approach can obscure the critical learning areas, reducing or eliminating time for “do” and “share” activities that introduce, present, apply, and reflect upon what is being learned.

In face-to-face training, trainers can adjust pace and focus content on the fly to match the learning group needs.  In online methods, the student becomes more involved in choosing content.  To help the student, online instructional designers moderate the level of “show” and “tell” content, creating a lean curriculum, then go further, making the remaining content searchable and easily navigated.  Course developers identify the content priority, as “need to know” and “nice to know.”  This will help students be selective and take a role in choosing the elements of the subject that will provide the key building blocks, the essentials they will need later.

Instructional designers provide most of the “show” and “tell” through short, engaging videos and animations.  Rather than trying to cover all content, they help teach learners where to find information.  The screen capture below taken from the GeoTol online course, illustrates the use of links to access short engaging videos to “show” and “tell”, balanced by interactive workshop exercises:



 The next screen capture shows navigation tools students may use to move quickly to find information.  The” jump to” button allows for fast movement to any unit.  Students may navigate forward or backward to a previously visited unit using the web browser forward/backward button or links at bottom of page.  The home button takes students back to the Home page.





These navigation tools make it easier to find and navigate to needed information.  In online training, learners do not need to memorize information and tools, but they must know where to find and access them.  The goal is not to memorize, but to locate.  See Appendix B to log onto GeoTol online training as a guest student, for links to the sample course and a short tutorial video of how to navigate.


Balance, the A, B, Cs of learning tasks

Online courses need a balance between activities (telling, showing, doing), a variety of learning approaches, and opportunities for participation.  This balance is the same thing experience trainers strive for in face-to-face active training.  However, in early attempts in creating online training courses trainers new to eLearning; perhaps limited by technology available or seeing online as a means to reduce cost, focused on their content, provided too much content and delivered it in linear fashion.  It was all telling- talking heads with many PowerPoints or long stretches of text.  Early online courses provided little opportunity for activities such as interactive exercises that spurred critical thinking, did not vary learning approaches to include formal and informal group discussion, included no one-to-one mentoring or coaching, and did not provide self-paced self-directed learning opportunities.

This teacher centric approach focused on transmitting knowledge from the expert who knows, to the student who does not.  Although this type of training was easier to create and control administratively, it ignored the ability and needs of the student to engage as a resource to themselves or others.  In addition, there are many different ways of learning formally and informally.  People may learn within a community such as part of a learning group or team; one-to-one, with a mentor, role model, or executive coach; and self-paced self-directed learning.  They also learn differently at different times in their lives and in different circumstances.  This creates a need for balance between nurturing attitudes and relationships, practicing skills, and promoting understanding of concepts.  Sound active learning principles attempt to construct a holistic learning environment by using all learning domains, affective, behavioral, and cognitive, the A, B, Cs in learning tasks.  Providing details of affective, behavioral, and cognitive theories is beyond the scope of this research, however, you may find brief descriptions in Appendix A, definition of terms.



In this section, the research provides examples of how GeoTol Training was adapted to use online teaching and learning tools incorporating instructional design principles and social stuff.  Although the research provides screen captures from GeoTol Online training to illustrate how GeoTol content was adapted for online use, I recommend using Appendix B.  Log onto GeoTol online training as a guest student, and test links to the sample course and view a short tutorial video of how to navigate.

The following screen captures illustrate examples of adapting face-to-face training content to use online and blended teaching learning methods:

In a face-to-face training, one would normally not jump directly into content.  The trainer, facilitator, or company leader would take time to introduce the course, the trainer, and take care of housekeeping issues.  This good practice is full of social stuff that should be included in online methods.


To improve the practice, blend online training methods with face-to-face methods.  Consider adding a face-to-face meeting on the first gathering or if distance and travel is an issue, set up a live webinar so that participants may start building social relationships with other participants.

Adult workforce learners need to know why learning is needed and the benefits and risk of not knowing.  When adults know how learning will happen, what learning will occur, and why it is important, they will respond more positively.  Include adult learners and their leaders in deciding what it is they will learn and set goals and plans for their learning.  Autonomy provides a feeling of being in control of learning, responsibility for decisions made and self-direction.



Adult learners respond well to training that relates to their work rather than a subject.  Combine trainings to create an experience most related to their work; include team problem solving, communications, and situational leadership methods to link training to positive business results.  Balance affective, behavioral; and cognitive learning; the A, B, C’s of learning tasks..

A good instructional practice assesses knowledge and need for learning within the learning group.  The assessment will also indicate the range of abilities identifying people who may be resources to other participants.



Provide means so that students may get to know each other.  The profile section allows participants to share personal information they wish to give such as a photo and contact information.  The forum allows students to tell a little more about themselves and share some of their personality; the start of relationship building.

Course facilitators add training evaluation questions with each unit based on Kirkpatrick training evaluation model, using the feedback to create a dialogue with students, make improvements in the training, and to link training to business results.  Each level of evaluation questions builds on each previous layer.  If students have a bad reaction to training they will not learn, without learning, students will not change behaviors, and without changed behavior, there is no improved business result.



Group activities can help learning groups go beyond memorization of terms to higher levels of learning such as application and creativity to solve complex problems.  These activities link training to positive change in the work place and provide a forum for students to share their experience.  This exercise shown in the next screen capture uses Kotter’s eight step change process model (Kotter, 1995) starting with creating a sense of urgency.  Here the learning group is tasked to articulate why this learning effort is applicable to them and create motivation to employ GeoTol in their design, manufacturing, and quality plans.  It starts by helping the team understand their current state and envision an improved future state.  In this forum, the task is to start an open, honest, and convincing dialogue about what’s happening in the marketplace and with competitors in regard to using GeoTol.  By talking about this continuous improvement effort, the urgency can build and feed on itself.  Encouraging participants to respond to each others’ post to creates a rich dialogue.



Another powerful group activity is creating a learning group charter.  Facilitators use team charters or learning contracts extensively in many Kaizen or continuous improvement events, to provide a very powerful team-building and organizational learning tool.  Research on adult learning indicates that when adults have autonomy in the learning process, the feel of being in control of accomplishing important worthwhile work, they are highly self-directing.  They learn more deeply and permanently then what they learn by being taught.  People support what they help create.  Team charters provide a way to balance the needs of the learner to improve competencies on the job and the needs of the organization to create a return on investment





Training progresses from simple concepts to the more complex.  For instance in early exercises students may be asked to identify terms and symbols. This is an example of a lower level of learning on Blooms Taxonomy.




In later exercises, students are asked to go to higher levels of learning, to apply knowledge, or create new information based on what they have learned previously.  Sometimes, as in real life, problems can have more than one solution as show in the next screen capture.


In the exercise above, students could pick a different solution, dragging datum references to different features on the part.  The key to this learning, was reflecting and displaying critical thinking as to why they picked this datum reference frame.  Application exercises provide a powerful learning tool that can drive learning to higher levels; however, they are also the most difficult to administer in an automated fashion in on line training.  These exercises provide wonderful opportunities for discussion and asking more thought provoking questions that lead to business results.


In designing questions, course designers should provide variety using online testing tools such as drag and drop, fill in the bank, hotspot, multiple-choice, as well as essay.


The next screen capture provides tips on slide layout, providing feedback, document control, and linking the questions back to the hard copy content.



This research indicated an important correlation between positive learning outcomes and engaged company leadership in the training.  The more engaged the leadership (leader presence), the better the learning outcome.  Although positive reinforcement by the facilitator, fellow students, and subject matter experts is important, if leadership does not support participants in implementing training or link the investment to business strategic objectives, the learning outcomes dwindle.

The learning group charter helps leaders to stay engage from the start, through carrying out the charter.  It provides an example of leader presence by: setting clear, understandable, and realistic objectives that describe the purpose to learn; engaging learners to consider and add other objectives; describing the resources and strategies needed to accomplish goals, and making visible objective evidence, showing goals are being met.


The screen capture below provide examples of a facilitator reinforcing training with instant messages and comments in the grade book.


Students and managers can also reinforce wanted behaviors by sending messages on jobs well done or piggybacking on an idea posted.


An email from the subject matter expert can energize students greatly.  I have received emails from students stating they cannot believe that the person who wrote the book actually contacted them- they were thrilled.  However, the research shows that what is most important is for facilitators to keep consistent contact with the team sponsor.  The company sponsor has to stay involved for real change to happen that leads to a return on investment.  Grade reporting capabilities by individual and aggregate team scores, and progress reports make for great coaching opportunities with the company leader or team sponsor.  Leaders can be given a non-grading teacher role with access to the grade book or provided reports in spreadsheet format.




An important instructional design concept many times omitted is concluding the training.  At the conclusion of the training, participants wonder “now what?”  Consider next steps, how can the team and leaders remove obstacles from implementing lessons learned. Make plans to follow up three to six months after training; what was the return on investment.  Make plans to celebrate.


The accelerating change in technology creates opportunities and challenges for teachers and students.  We have so much to learn about learning using new technology.  It is hard to keep up.  However, this is another phenomenon for future study, the digital divide between trainers and students.


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