Remote - or online – training has established significant critical mass during the current global pandemic to the point that nearly all training institutions or centres have adopted some form of remote training. In Part 1 we discussed the different meanings of 'Remote Training', how its delivery can be synchronous and asynchronous, and the relative benefits of online and face-to-face.
In the second of this two-part story, we shall cover these requirements, and namely the awareness that there are different modalities for remote training to be delivered, that it is not always a substitute for traditional classroom instruction and that it work best when ‘blended’ with face-to-face. Further, the engagements of participants must be ensured for a positive learning outcome and that the trainers themselves need to be trained and qualified to deliver online training.
Issues of Online Training and How to Manage Them
There are some barriers for online training to become a positive experience. According to Tianhong Zhang, Assistant Professor of Education at the School of Education of Cedarville University, this can happen when instructors, learners and all other stakeholders think the accountability of remote training and education questionable including school accountability, teacher’s accountability, student’s accountability, and parents’ accountability. “This can also happen when the ‘technocentric’ model is prioritised over the face-to-face culture and when the teacher and the students start to feel ‘placelessness’ in the remote context due to the lack of a learning community or the lack of face-time between and among students and teachers or to an impoverished value placed on oral discussion practices. The educators who hold a ‘technocentric’ stance believe that educational technology itself, including hardware and software, can make the learning environment better and believe ed-tech as the agent of change. For example, people use computer mediated training or simulation, overlooking people and culture in a learning community”, she says.
Issues may be encountered when deep learning including deep interactions between teachers and students cannot be achieved without real-time classroom experience. “If all these challenges are not challenging any more, traditional classroom instruction can be switched to remote mode at any time”, says Zhang. “The issue is whether instructors for remote education and training are well prepared to teach online or in remote mode and whether learners are well-prepared to learn in remote mode”.
Indeed, different educational philosophies determine the perception and selection of training methods or teaching and instruction methods, how the training curriculum or teaching-learning activities are organised or structured, and how we use remote training or remote instructional technologies[i]. Remote training means different things with different educational philosophies in practice - such as liberal, progressive and humanistic.
Remote training is a ‘situated learning process’ at remote sites, observes Zhang. “The theory of situated learning exemplifies the apprenticeship experience in that new trainees engaging in various apprenticeship roles have their learning facilitated from peripheral to full participation in a specific community of practice, such as online teachers, nurses, mechanics, hospitality staff, etc.,” says Zhang. “For example, the technocentric philosophy in remote training might be good for remote training focussing on interactions between trainees and training content, such as mechanics. However, for online teachers or nurses, when technocentric is prioritized over a face-to-face training culture in remote training, some issues would emerge, such as trainers’ and trainees’ feeling of ‘placelessness’ due to the lack of trainees’ meaningful interactions with each other, with their trainers and with their potential customers (such as students, patients). This lack of interaction might hinder the trainees from full participation in their professional community of practice. So, a humanistic approach would be a better consideration.”
A Sandwich Approach
Kearns believes that the best approach to combining online and face to face learning is using a sandwich approach – where the in-person learning is sandwiched with preparatory e-learning beforehand and subsequent e-learning to promote retention after leaving the classroom. “Overall, the driver for the medium chosen (online or in-person) should be what will produce the most effective learning at the lowest cost. In some cases, a traditional book may be the best option while in other cases you may need a high-fidelity flight simulator. It depends on the material being taught,” she says.
Another important point is that instructors should consider student preferences and experience when selecting tools to adopt in the preparation and delivery of training, be it online or face-to-face. In fact. students in general are frequent users of mobile phones, tablets, and laptops, but different groups of students might have different preferences and varying degrees of access to these devices. When introducing communication and collaboration tools, instructors must be clear about the purpose of using these tools within their course and should explain that these tools are meant to connect formal and informal learning by extending communication beyond the classroom environment. Instructors should design discussion tasks to be relevant and integrated with the course materials, not exercises which do not support student participation. Specifically, technology-based communication and collaboration spaces should be treated as important components of the course. Students will benefit from clear expectations about when and how they should use those spaces. When use of these tools factor into instructors’ assessments of student performance, grading criteria and rubrics should be shared with students at the beginning of the course[ii].
Learning Outcomes and Their Leading Factors
Comparing remote training and education with traditional classroom instruction can be controversial. In general training can be either good or bad, this applies to both remote and in-person courses, and the basic principles of instructional design apply to both environments. Instructional design includes the ADDIE model that requires to:
- Analyse the instructional needs
- Design the materials
- Develop the training
- Implement the training; and
- Evaluate the results.
Another model to use as part of instructional design of both online and face to face training is the ASSURE model which requires to:
- Analyse learners
- State standards and objectives
- Select strategies, technology, media, and materials
- Utilise technology, media, and materials
- Require learner participation; and
- Evaluate and revise.
A Three-Legged Stool
Kearns believes that good online learning requires a balance between three main critical factors, which are to be considered as a 3-legged stool as without any of them in balance the course will perform poorly. “The first factor is a robust and effective online platform – for example, a learning management system or web conferencing tool that is user friendly and effective. The second factor is the teaching expertise in the chosen medium – each course must embed an understanding of how material should be taught, considering the technology used to deliver the course and an expert understanding of effective teaching principle for that medium. The third factor is subject-matter expertise – the course needs to be accurate and the learning outcomes need to precisely target the purpose of the course,” she says. “Often courses will prioritise two of these three factors but miss one entirely. For example, a video recording of a classroom lecture, delivered online, may have excellent subject matter expertise and be delivered through a robust platform like YouTube but students may find it very dry and unengaging as it lacks any principles which support learning in an online medium.”
Instructor Digital Competency
Zhang observes that remote professional training can have well-developed training protocols; in addition, learners interact with the training content and the training outcome can be evaluated with standardised tests. However, that might not be the case in teacher education, such as using simulation-based teacher education program for training pre-service teachers on how to teach to diverse learners. Indeed, the factors which impact online instruction are tightly connected to the ability of the trainers to deliver online instruction. These factors have to do with instructors’ digital competency, instructors’ flexibility with their time, their understanding of the various learning styles of their students. Instructors should also establish a social presence in the online course to motivate students into learning and develop appropriate teaching strategies used for online instruction. They should also have extensive content knowledge and continuing extending technological knowledge as well as effective online classroom management strategies and monitoring students’ learning in the remote mode, according to Zhang.
Trainers should also implement various online assessment strategies for allowing students to demonstrate their knowledge and skills and engage students into learning. They should also form rich and meaningful interactions with students and among students in relation to the learning content and be ready to make available various supplemental support for online students to meet their diverse learning needs. When facilitating the formation of a learning community they should use multiple communication channels to give in-time and intentional feedback with clear expectation and direction for improvement, according to Zhang. “Of course, online instructors also need to help students forming online integrity. When instructors for remote training and education are equipped with most of or all the skills and knowledge needed, remote education can yield positive learning outcomes,” she says.
The monitoring of student participation, and provision of facilitation and feedback as needed have a central role to play in yielding a positive online learning outcome. Communication and collaboration tools that enable discussion forums and blogging should be used to provide students the opportunity to write reflectively, discuss learning experiences, and react to the experiences of classmates. Instructors can model desired behaviours and then - if students are not engaging or contributing as expected - instructors can redirect them or provide more support. In this way instructors can evaluate whether the selected communication and collaboration tools are effectively supporting interaction among students and between students and instructors. Instructors should continuously revisit the learning outcomes of their courses and ensure any collaborative activities and communications they use align with these outcomes[iii].
“If One is a Good Teacher, Then One is Probably Going to be Good Face-to-Face or Online”
A meta-analysis study which was published around seven years ago entailed an analysis on online learning and compared student outcomes in an online environment versus a face to face environment first and then with blended learning (a combination of both online and face to face). The study found that there was no real difference between the online and face-to-face modes. There was instead a significant difference between blended learning and either of the other two. The blended environment had achieved positive effects on the learning outcome[iv].
“This still holds true today, the online and the face to face do not have a significant difference, but there is a difference in the blended versus the other two. There is a whole literature which emphasises it is the delivery mechanism that matters; it is the person who is directing this, the teacher. If one is a good teacher, then one is probably going to be good face-to-face or online,” says Picciano. “As far as online and face to face is concerned, the dichotomy really depends on other factors: the teacher, the pedagogy. One should not just teach online but rather one should decide what one wants to accomplish pedagogically and then to have the online environment fit the educational objective.”
Other factors affecting the training outcome are the available technologies. “It is one thing to have adult students who already have a degree and have good access to technology, such as good computers and high-speed Wi-Fi. But it is another thing when dealing with students who might be poor with technology, or who do not have good access to Wi-Fi. For example, in the United States we have a problem with students who live in rural areas,” says Picciano.
Training Online Trainers
Indeed, the role of the trainer is critical to ensure a positive training outcome and it is critical to recognise that the instructional medium (online or in-person) influences how the material should be organised and conveyed. “An excellent classroom session using slides and delivered by an instructor may fall flat if it is converted to a simple online slide deck with a voiceover. The best way to understand this is to image one who reads a wonderful and exciting book and then learns a film was made about the book,” says Kearns. "If one entered the cinema and an actor walked onto the screen, sat down, and read the book aloud – one may walk out of the theatre. The medium, in this case a written book versus a movie, influences how the content should be conveyed."
Instructional design in key in the training or qualification online trainers should undergo to ensure on-line training has a positive outcome. “Trainers delivering remote training should be familiar with online instructional design such as the ADDIE model and ASSURE model. These two models can help trainers with a solid foundation for online training. For the quality of delivering remote training, all the teaching or training content and learning activities and assessment should be aligned with the learning objectives,” says Zhang.
Within e-learning research, there is a solid body of literature around the multiple aspects of what works and what does not work instead. “Everything from media principles that suggest how images and words should complement rather than distract from one another, the value of using a friendly human voice (rather than a robotic or monotone voice-over), and the importance of interactions that allow users to engage with the material and check their understanding,” says Kearns.
Picciano highlights that in United States one can even pursue a Masters’ degrees in instructional technology. “We have had graduate programmes and Masters’ degrees on instructional technology for over 20 years. The person undergoing these studies works with faculty to develop to develop the materials of an online course. A good training programme for developing remote or online trainers requires that the participants develop an understanding of both pedagogical and technological principles,” he says.
The Trainer Should Start with the Pedagogical Goals
The Socratic method is a way of using questions to get to a point, it is a pedagogical approach to ensure the engagement of trainees in a collaborative mode. “The trainer should make the online environment suit this pedagogical approach. The online environment makes it very convenient to have groups of three or four students who work together on some issues or topics., they can share blogs and can have individual Zoom sessions. The goal should be really for students to collaborate with one another. The technology should be used as a tool so that they have a good collaborative experience. The trainer should start with the pedagogical goals and then make the technology fit those goals,” concludes Picciano.
[i] Kanuka, Heather. (2008). UNDERSTANDING E-LEARNING TECHNOLOGIES-IN-PRACTICE THROUGH PHILOSOPHIES-IN-PRACTICE.