7 Steps to Effective Distance Learning in Challenging Times
By Editor

Posted November 01, 2010

Sometimes it’s hard to find the silver lining in a difficult situation – take the workplace in a recession for example. With even the healthiest companies implementing severe cut-backs and staff reductions, those who remain at their jobs often have to take on additional responsibilities. And with training being one of the first expenses to go, they struggle to acquire the skills they need to succeed.

Distance learning is one way to address the problem of building the critical skills and morale of the workers left on the scene. Nancy Settle-Murphy and I have just written an article mapping out several important steps to creating the kind of multifaceted distance learning program that will result in employees who are equipped and ready to take on the challenges during the economic downturn and beyond. Read the full article.

Step 1: Quantify the sense of urgency.
How quickly do certain people need to cultivate particular skills? Must all employees be trained at once, or can some be trained early and act as mentors? By creating manageable “bites” of learning in the form of repeatable modules, those who need the training can pick it up when they need it most, from wherever they work.

Step 2: Clarify your performance objectives by audience
By differentiating learning objectives by audience, you’ll determine who needs the “superset” of all available options and who needs certain components. As a result, you can create a series of standalone modules that can be “snapped” together for certain audiences on a “just-in-time” basis.

Step 3: Select delivery methods to match learning objectives.
For each performance objective, consider what skills or topics are most important and how they can best be delivered. Make sure to build in time for people to absorb some information offline, to make the best use of precious real-time interactions. For example, people can watch a video or listen to a PodCast on their own time and then join with a group in real-time to discuss, explore, ask and answer questions, or work on a case study or simulation.

Step 4: Look for technologies that will create interactive learning environments even at a distance.
This one is critical and not necessarily obvious. Scheduling a subject matter expert to deliver an informative, detailed slide presentation via con call may seem to be an efficient, low-cost way to impart knowledge to a large number of people. But in the absence of an engaging, interactive learning experience, people will often slip away to check email or do their “real” work. The biggest loss: A missed opportunity for people to absorb vital skills that can sharpen performance in increasingly tough business conditions. Employ a variety of learning methods, such as asynchronous participation in a virtual conference room, conference call, web meeting tools, shared portals, and social networking applications as you design your learning program. Choosing the optimum combination of technologies and tools is just one part of the challenge to creating a great distance learning solution, but it’s a vital one. Here’s a helpful snapshot that maps different learning types to suggested technology tools.

Step 5: Insist that managers be part of this “action learning” process.
Managers must be actively involved by making it possible for employees to invest the needed time to develop skills; providing coaching to reinforce skills in a supportive environment; and reporting on the success of the learning program.

Step 6: Create small teams to foster continuous learning.
Design break-out teams into your distance learning program whenever possible around learning activities and deliverables, such as action research, case studies, discussion of materials, presenting recommendations, and delivering focused feedback.

Step 7: Make learning easy to apply in real-life situations.
Build your training program around your audiences’ real challenges, issues and needs. This way, the training program gives them an opportunity to actually get needed work done while learning a new skill. The result: More enthusiastic participation by both employees and managers.

Step 8: Practice continuous improvement.
Refine and revise your learning programs continually. A training solution that works beautifully today may fall flat 6 or 12 months from now. Think about how you, your participants and their managers can realistically determine if the training had its intended impact over time. This information can help ensure that the program is always finely-tuned to best meet the needs of audiences who need new skills the most.

As organizations move much of their classroom-led training to the virtual world, traditional training and management roles are becoming blurred. When choosing the right blend of distance learning activities, make sure that everyone involved understands the performance goals, their roles, and how their contributions fit in the overall process.

Posted by Editor