One of the key success factors in online learning is the support that is offered to learners. That support can take many forms, depending on the type of training you are offering. For example, if you develop self-study web-based training modules you may not have any direct contact with your participants, but you can provide support by making sure that any instructions about how to use the site or how to work through the modules are clearly written and easy to find. With a facilitated course that requires participants to register, you will be able to provide initial support through direct contact with participants. To find out more about how you can support online learners, be sure to refer to the Online Facilitation module and the Tips for Online Learners module.
Finding out about the steps to introduce and support online training was the focus of one of the questions in the GO research survey. This question was widely interpreted by respondents, resulting in a rich array of insight.
When introducing online learning, organizations that delivered training provided information about how they offered support to new users as well as how they marketed their training opportunities. They also talked about how content was developed, how they strove to continuously improve that content and the need for adequate funding to develop, design and deliver online training.
The most common response to this question centred around the issue of providing support to participants. This was a key factor in the successful introduction of online learning. The type of support offered included ensuring that the initial registration process was user-friendly, that instructions were clearly written, and that any information and material was sent out well ahead of time. The use of FAQs (or Frequently Asked Questions) is an excellent way to provide this information. You can see an example of an FAQ from Capella University here. SEEK Learning in Australia also provides an FAQ page for prospective students. These are just two examples; you can find many others from training and education providers around the world.
New participants need information about how the online course is set up, any specific requirements or expectations, course deadlines, technical information relating to the software or platform being used, tips for being an online learner (be sure to visit the Tips for Online Learners module!) and information about online etiquette. Evaluations showed that this type of information was not only helpful but led to overall satisfaction with the course.
Often, organizations that offer online training provide orientation opportunities before participants start the course. Sometimes this can take the form of clearly-written instructions that provide more detailed information than an FAQ does; sometimes it can mean a support person working one-on-one with participants, and sometimes it includes a "guided tour" of the online learning platform. For example, Community Literacy of Ontario uses Centra to deliver some of its professional development training. Participants who have not used Centra before can learn about it using the tutorial included on the log-in page. If you are not able to find a tutorial, do a search on YouTube. If you would like to learn how to use some of the Web 2.0 technology, be sure to visit CommonCraft. They have created a number of informative and helpful videos to help you learn what some of the Web 2.0 technologies look like and how to use them.
While using technology to deliver training can be very exciting, it can also have its frustrating moments. Technical problems and glitches can be very off-putting and may initially can give some participants a negative first impression of online learning. When developing your online training, think about your potential audience, i.e., know what technology they probably have available, including taking connection speeds into consideration. While much of Canada now has reliable broadband access to the Internet, there are still areas that do not have high-speed connections, and this type of barrier needs to be taken into consideration. Be sure to include information about the technology requirements in any FAQs or marketing material so potential participants will know ahead of time if they have the hardware and software they need to join your course.