Round 2: Distance Learning

This week we were asked to consider and discuss the merits of learning technology solutions in the context of a corporate training requirement to train employees on a new information system who were in dispersed sites. Training employees on new information systems or applications can is always a daunting task. There will be all sorts of resistance and friction from the employees. Some will complain about the time and energy required to master a new process. Others will moan about how the old system was just fine and why should management change something that was not broken. Even those employees who consider themselves as technology early adopters will gripe about the new system not being the “state of the art” version that only true technocrati know about.

These are all factors that will cause friction during the implementation of training of a new information system in a training environment where the employees are co-located, but imagine these challenges being compounded by having employees who work at geographically dispersed sites. Fortunately, distance education technologies have evolved to the point where effective, symmetrical training is not only possible, it can be the instructional learning mode of choice.

One collaborative learning technology tool that has made great strides over the past few years is Web conferencing. Through this technology business can conduct a range of interactive, collaborative communications. Through proprietary Web-conferencing applications such as Webex®, or GotoMeeting® instructional designers can also develop and implement effective and engaging collaborative training. From, Simonson et al. on the capabilities of this tool as a learning technology:

“Web conferencing, combining telephone and Web technologies, overcome the limitations of voice-only technologies through the provision of “application sharing” of voice-only technologies through the provision of “application sharing,”…Virtual classrooms focus on synchronous teacher-student and student-student interaction through application-sharing and voice over IP. Virtual classrooms have been available for several years, but only recently…has usability advanced to a level considered acceptable by many. (2012).

Key to an effective Web conferencing capability is having the bandwidth required to support streaming video and audio feeds that can facilitate real-time interaction between learners and instructors. This interactive feature enriches the learning experience through discussions, feedback and collaborative dialog. It is not only the applications and the system hardware. Many Web conferencing systems also offer a screen sharing capability where remote users with the proper system credentials can access another users system to demonstrate a technique or process for an application.

Web conferencing can be an effective collaborative learning tool; however, there are some considerations that IDs should factor into their instructional design. A key one, is that the number of students participating at a given time during the training. As noted by In Tony Bates’ 12 ‘‘golden rules’’ for the use of technology in education the eight one discusses student size. From Simonson et al., “…student numbers are critical. Although this observation is made in the context of cost and media selection, student numbers are, indeed, critical in at least two other respects: class and working – (or discussion-) group size…The literature clearly indicates that there are practical limits beyond which the quality of instruction and learning are compromised.” (p. 179, 2012).

Critics of using Web conferencing as a training mode may point out that this method does not provide the personal, face-to-face experience, and that is a valid point. Yet, IDs should ask what better media to conduct information system training then the actual platform device where the system is used in a business context?

References:

Simonson, M., Smaldino, S., Albright, M., & Zvacek, S. (2012). Teaching and learning at a distance: Foundations of distance education (5th Ed.) Boston, MA: Pearson.

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