I just finished submitting my final project for my Distance Learning course to my instructor. The project was to develop an orientation program, which would be delivered through a blended distance learning environment, for a workplace safety training program. The time and attention to detail that I had to commit to develop my project was an eye-opener, but it gave me a better understanding of all the elements that an instructional designer needs to consider in developing a blended distance learning course. For the project, I knew that I was developing a course for the blended distance learning environment, so the resources and strategies I used to develop the orientation program were developed with that specific learning environment in mind. Now, what would happen if I had to convert an existing face-to-face course to a blended learning course (online and face-to-face)? How would I go about approaching this? This is the scenario I was presented with in class this week, and the focus of today’s writing. The exact scenario is as follows:
“A training manager has been frustrated with the quality of communication among trainees in his face-to-face training sessions and wants to try something new. With his supervisor’s permission, the trainer plans to convert all current training modules to a blended learning format, which would provide trainees and trainers the opportunity to interact with each other and learn the material in both a face-to-face and online environment. In addition, he is considering putting all of his training materials on a server so that the trainees have access to resources and assignments at all times” (Laureate Education, n.d.).
One of the first things I would do as the trainer, if presented with this situation, would be to consider some pre-planning strategies before moving forward with the plan to convert the course. According to Simonson, Smaldino, Albright, & Zvacek (2012), “the process of planning and organizing for a distance education course is multifaceted and must occur well in advance of the scheduled instruction” (Simonson, Smaldino, Albright, & Zvacek, 2012, p. 153); therefore, one of the first things I need to consider is time, namely the time I am going to allow myself to devote to converting the course.
The next consideration involves the access to the course resources. The trainer wants to put all of the training resources on a server, but that may not allow the trainer to organize and structure the content so it is easy for the learner to follow. Moving to an online environment is going to require technology, and “with any instructional activity heavily invested in technology for the delivery of content, the choice of types of tools is important” (Simonson, et.al., p. 204). To provide the structure, ease of use, and the ability to give participants 24/7 access to the resources, it would be best to use a course management system (CMS). This leads to this question: Does the company have a CMS, or would one need to be purchased?
Another consideration to take into account as part of the pre-planning strategy would be to examine the current face-to-face instructional methods used to engage the students in communication, and to determine which methods are working, and which are not. As Simonson, Smaldino, Albright, & Zvacek (2012) state, “technology used in distance learning should be considered a tool to deliver the instruction and not the method” (Simonson, Smaldino, Albright, & Zvacek, 2012, p. 203). Converting the course to an online environment alone is not going to fix the communication issue. Along with examining the current instructional methods, I would also need to re-examine the current course objectives because “what is of importance when considering instructional choice is that the methods selected for a distance learning setting match the outcomes defined by the objectives and the assessments to be implemented” (Simonson, et.al., p. 203).
“Learners who are engaged in learning are actively participating in their own understanding of the content” (Simonson, Smaldino, Albright, & Zvacek, 2012, p. 201), and in a distance learning environment, one strategy used to engage learners is through the use of “structured discussions” (Simonson, et.al., p. 201). Since the trainer aims to improve the communication between the participants, using discussion forums would enhance that element of the original program. However, getting the participants to communicate online through the use of the discussion forums can be a challenge. The “students may need training in communication protocols” (Simonson, et.al., p. 200), since the distance learning environment may be new to them. The trainer can also use an icebreaker activity. “Icebreakers…serve as a positive experience in developing a community of learners especially in the distance learning environment” (Simonson, et.al., p. 200), and “the opportunities for communications and collaborations are enhanced” (Simonson, et.al., p. 200). If the students are actively engaged in the online discussion forums, then they are communicating as the trainer intended, but that means that the trainer’s role needs to change as well.
According to Simonson, Smaldino, Albright, & Zvacek (2012), “a successful online environment moves away from the teacher to the student as the key to the learning process” (Simonson, Smaldino, Albright, & Zvacek, 2012, p. 196), therefore, the role of the trainer will change when the course is converted. The trainer’s role will move from teaching to facilitating (Simonson, et.al., 2012) the students.
Are these all of the considerations that need to be taken into account in converting the face-to-face course into an online course? No, but they are the ones that need to be considered first. There are many other details that would need to be considered; therefore, I would also like to offer the trainer a best practices guide to assist in converting this course. Click on the link below to access the guide.
Laureate Education (n.d.). Week 7 Application Assignment. Retrieved from https://class.waldenu.edu
Simonson, M., Smaldino, S., Albright, M., & Zvacek, S. (2012). Teaching and learning at a distance: Foundations of distance education (5th ed.) Boston, MA: Pearson.