It has been almost four years since I started research on online teaching and learning.  During this research, I discovered that perhaps instead of “social stuff” a more appropriate term is “situational learning theory” because there is no single “best” style of teaching and learning.  Teaching/learning, leading/following share similar concepts.  Effective learning is relevant, and the most successful teachers are those that adapt their teaching style to the needs of the individual learners or learning groups they are attempting to teach.  Effective teaching and learning varies, with not only the person or group that is being trained, but it also depends on the learning outcome that needs to be accomplished.

Trainers working with workforce-learning communities seeking to adapt eLearning methods need to recognize social processes and proven instructional design principles.  It will take much more than posting paper based instructional materials available online to adapt face-to-face training methods to eLearning methods.  There is a combination of phenomenon adult learners need (and they change over time) in order to learn, including: knowing their study is important and worthwhile work; having autonomy- the feeling of being control of reaching goals; and able to feel inspired and motivated by their learning group.  This is similar to the situational leadership concepts espoused by Blanchard and Bowles(1997) in “Gung Ho.”

This research, a study of GeoTol learning groups exposed to different levels of social stuff, makes a clear inference to how creating and maintaining social stuff found in proven instructional design principles improves the learning outcomes by improving communication and willingness to learn.  Therefore, it is important for participants; students, teachers, managers, facilitators, and course developers to be able to recognize, create, and maintain actions that encourage social opportunities found in sound instructional design principles in all learning activities.  These are not just good eLearning principles, they are sound principles that may help improve all training engagements.  Education is a social practice and the ability to interact socially is important to cognitive learning and social learning.” (Laffey, Lin, & Lin, 2006, p. Abstract)  Any formal learning environment must be able to support the social practice and processes of learning.  This research leads to the recommendations that learning communities:

  • incorporate a combination of group activities, structure, and incentives;
  • provide coaching by teachers, managers, facilitators and student learners;
  • and define a clear purpose, problem to solve, or goal to achieve;

into the teaching and learning process.

This combination of methods parallels the strategies, which are used in successful face-to-face training.  Developing social aspects of training and eLearning will support successful learning, and will link training investment to business results.  The same instructional design principles that make face-to-face training methods successful are needed in eLearning methods.

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