Challenge of online learning all about creative collaboration
Covid-19 left companies trying to shoehorn learning into tools which might not be appropriate
“We already know there is a challenge in getting people motivated and interested in online learning. We’ve all heard about death by PowerPoint. Click, click, click and it’s done. You need to create interactivity and provide a collaboration space as well.” File photograph: Getty
Janet Benson, academic director with Learnovate research centre, says companies should not try to replicate what they are doing in face-to-face learning in the digital space. “You need to design a new learning experience for the online environment,” she advises.
Funded by Enterprise Ireland in partnership with IDA Ireland and hosted by Trinity College, Learnovate is a research and innovation centre focused on edtech and learning technologies. Its main objectives are to enhance the competitiveness of Ireland’s learning technology industry and to maximise the success organisations derive from the effective use of learning technology.
According to Benson, organisations moving to online learning need to take an outcomes-led approach. “What is the problem you are trying to solve? What is the learning experience you are trying to achieve? What are the tools to support that?”
Covid-19 has seen lots of companies trying to shoehorn learning into tools which aren’t necessarily appropriate, she adds.
There is also the issue of solutions being developed with no particular problem in mind. “A lot of companies come to us with solutions but what is the problem they are trying to solve?” she asks. “What are the learning outcomes? What are you trying to do? You need to go to the ‘why?’ before the ‘what?’ We did a webinar for Enterprise Ireland on that recently.”
Benson advises organisations to be open-minded when it comes to learning technology and tools.
“You can look at it from a lot of different viewpoints,” she notes. “Take Zoom for example. Any technology for communication can be a learning technology. Zoom is primarily a communications and meetings technology, but its breakout rooms feature can be used to turn it into a collaboration tool. That’s a very important part of learning technology.”
How the technology is used is probably more important than its functionality. “In a training room there is the potential to interact and collaborate with people,” she explains. “When training is moved online there is a tendency to just shift the content. That’s not learning. It’s just putting information online. There is no collaboration or interaction. It’s all about the learning experience.
“We already know there is a challenge in getting people motivated and interested in online learning. We’ve all heard about death by PowerPoint. Click, click, click and it’s done. You need to create interactivity and provide a collaboration space as well.”
While education has switched to online delivery during the pandemic, it hasn’t been an entirely smooth changeover.
“Universities can struggle with providing learning outside the traditional lecture theatre,” she points out. “A lot of lecturers are used to lecturing on stage and they tend to video their lecture and provide it to students. They expect them to watch it for 45 minutes, but that’s very difficult.
“They need to flip the lecture theatre and provide information in advance to students who can then go online for discussion and problem-solving. If someone is sitting in a lecture theatre taking notes while listening to someone talking, that’s one thing. But watching a video is another. It’s just not interesting. You need to break the material down into smaller chunks. We know people only engage for a certain amount of time online.”
She advises people to experiment with tools to find out which ones work best for them. “We did a webinar for a client company on collaboration tools. They asked what the difference is between a collaboration and a communication tool. That was a great question. Zoom is a communications tool, but it can also be used for collaboration.
“Companies should look at what they have already and how best it can be used. If you are using a tool for family chats and informal stuff you should explore what it can do for the learning experience. You should work with what you have where you can.”
And Learnovate can help. “Any Enterprise Ireland client company can come to us,” says Benson. “We look at their capabilities and how we can help. We help companies to do the right things for the right reasons based on the resources and capabilities they already have. A lot of companies have been sold solutions and learning management systems that haven’t lived up to expectations. We are not trying to sell anything. We look at the problem before finding a solution.”