Adapting for online delivery; clarifying outcomes

When adapting existing course content, it's tempting to assume that there's nothing to do when it comes to the training outcomes. Just use the existing ones, right? Not necessarily. Changing the way you offer the programme can result in a whole raft of 'process' related training outcomes being introduced. For example, online/distance programmes often expect students to find and assimilate information from Internet based resources. They also need to manage their own study, and are often expected to identify what they don't know and articulate this through the online environment.

These expectations are often not present to the same degree in face-to-face training, due to the immediacy of trainer/lecturer support. That's why you'll often find students baulking at the degree of independent study expected of them in online/distance courses. It seems like a lot of unnecessary extra work, when the trainer/lecturer could just give the information. There are two implications here for training design:

1. If we're going to add process related outcomes to the programme, we need to be sure that the volume of work is still realistic, and that the programme is designed so that learners are trained in the skills, not just assumed to have them.

2. There will be much better buy-in from learners when these outcomes are clearly articulated as part of the programme. They won't be seen as an unnecessary extra, they'll be a legitimate part of the programme. In point of fact, these sorts of (enterprise) skills are becoming recognised as core to many programmes, both academic and corporate. The online/distance environment is a great place to develop them, so long as they have a legitimate place in the programme.

Also bear in mind that in a face-to-face environment, the trainer/lecturer is in a position to clarify, update or change outcomes as the course progresses. An ambiguous outcome can be clarified with a quick question. However eLearning/distance courses generally leave learners in more isolated environments. Sure, there are messageboards and email tools for communicating course information, but how will you know when there is a problem with an ambiguous outcome? Online/distance communication is slower and less homogenous. Often you may not be aware of a problem until assessments are submitted, and it's a little late then to be clarifying objectives... The lesson here is; the more remote the student, the more explicit the instructions need to be.

The design process is now at the point that you have a clear picture of your learners and what will work for them. You have also articulated your training goals.

About the Author

Phil has been involved in a number of projects in the field of flexible delivery, both research based and product-based.