Moving Onsite Learning to Online? Avoid these Traps!

One of my least favourite yet most common questions from onsite professors, coaches, and trainers is “how can I just move my content from onsite to online?” My first task is to eradicate this concept of “lifting and moving.”

This is emotionally painful. Who wants to be told that their fabulous class or workshop is about to be mothballed?

Onsite Benefits that Break Online

The classic response to any suggestion that we have to think differently for online learning is that they know what they do works. They’ve seen the results. They’ve watched the students. What they do is right!

And then I go into the neuroscience that finishes the heartbreak.

  • The natural and tacit communication that happens in a face to face environment is not only absent online, but it’s a black hole.
  • The energy gained and subsequent motivation from other students in the same space is now 100% reliant on the individual to create.
  • Both implicit and explicit guidance from body language and movement (slides, examples, facilitated scenarios) are now only available through created constructs.
  • The visual cues that keep our brains on the learning journey, such as mapping, stickies, and interactive projects are replaced with a higher technological learning curve.

Why Online Won’t Work

We’ve seen all of these wonderful onsite benefits not translate to online, whether it was a remote meeting that accomplished nothing, a web-based training that failed to engage you, or a webinar that would never end. These experiences have often led to some common assumptions.

Assumption #1
Tests are the only way to determine the learner really got it.

Yes, tests are an evaluative tool, but it can only measure the lower levels of cognitive learning and competency (only the lower left corner of the visual mapping grid). An alternative mindset, Authentic Learning, provides a great alternative for the onsite adult learner. However, a focus on content over tooling allows online asynchronous learning.

Assumption #2
Content must be read or watched.

A classic web-based training (WBT) technique is to force each page to be read before the next one is allowed. Another technique is to have tools to show that every resource was opened. A classic webinar approach is to run the analytics for each attendee’s participation percentage. The common “read then test” technique only engages short term memory, which has limited time and capacity. However, you can build long term memory by starting with discussions (whether threaded forums or Zoom). Then you can build new knowledge by integrating a repository of resources as they become relevant. This connects the new information to the learner’s existing background.

Assumption #3
Online learning is simply a poor shadow of learning in-person.

That is true if you simply take an onsite course flow, then plop it online. Or simply replace it with read-test loops. In reality, online is more difficult because you can’t read the room. Relationships are built individually instead of in the group dynamic. Content has to be designed differently. Shared experiences have to be facilitated with well practiced and researched tech tools. And most of all, it takes serious discipline from all parties to maintain steady progress. However, shifting mindset for online design (usually with the assistance of an online learning designer) will achieve the same outcomes. There is the added benefit that more processing time is provided, avoiding content overwhelm.

Assumption #4
Students can’t be trusted to do the work.

The learning experience is unrelated to trust. Professors tend to not believe students are learning unless they can eyeball them, but the prolific need to control devices and behavior demonstrate that even physical presence doesn’t change much. It’s true learners need structure. However, the secret to any effective learning experience is 1) relevance to their lives and 2) content shared in a brain friendly way.

Hint. Big slide decks and lectures over 10m are not brain friendly.

Assumption #5
Technical content, such as language or programming requires in-person coaching.

Technical content requires correct application, which requires the learner to be able to deconstruct the concepts and integrate context. It’s presumed difficult to track that online; and it is, if you’re simply tracking that they understand it. However, online is feasible when we identify the essential factors that require practice and determine the critical points when a verbal / shared screen conversation must take place. Online then provides more habit building capacity for the learner.

Assumption #6
Good online content requires cameras, green screen, teleprompters, microphones…

Certainly these toys make for more professional video production. But very little in online learning is related to video production. Marketing? Absolutely. Learning? No. There are times when online learning needs the personal video connection for the high points of concepts or to walk through a problem or to demonstrate a coding process. However, the reality for learning is that the more authentic the production, the more likely the brain will resonate with the content. It’s the learner’s brain shaking hands with the instructor’s brain. It does not need to be tricked or distracted to buy something.

Enter the Learning Designer

It is a common question, among educators especially, to ask what an instructional, or learning, designer actually does. The simple answer is that we keep up on modern learning methods as well as help make that content measurable and engaging for the modern learner. This creates a perfect partnership for a high-quality course. The subject matter expert provides highly relevant content that furthers the learner’s knowledge and experience, and the learning designer takes that content and presents it in a way that maximizes the learning experience and retention.

Curious about the specific distinctions? Check out the video I created for a higher ed client who provides curriculum design for universities.

Concepts to Adopt

Whether you feel ready to work with a learning designer or not, I have created a list of concepts that are critical for the online learning environment. As I publish these individual posts on my LinkedIn account, I will also link them here to the relevant concept for a growing repository to support your effort to transition from onsite to online effectively well!

Bookmark this article for access to the articles linked below. More links will be available across the next week or two!

Concept 1 Concept over Information: Creating Applicable Takeaways

Article: Avoiding Information Dump in Online Learning
Article Description:
Dropping a lot of information in an online course disengages the learner. This article will discuss steps that help learners find solutions to their pain points today.

Concept 2 Content over Tool: Designing for Change

Article: Avoiding the Tool Trap by Designing Well
Article Description:
Thinking about the tool first limits the options you have for the learning experience. This article will discuss how to design the content first in order to select the correct tool(s).

Concept 3 Scaffold Well: Avoiding Context Switching

Article: Clustering Skills Expectations in Online Learning
Article Description:
What is easy to weave in an onsite setting is no longer obvious or simple online. This article will discuss a visual mapping process that ensures that the topics scaffold across the learning experience clearly for the learner.

Concept 4 Transformation: Knowing their Next Step

Article: Reading the Room for Online Learning
Article Description:
A big fear in moving to online learning is that tacit value cannot be instilled throughout the learning process. This article will discuss a clear method for both integrating values and recognising when students are ready for the next step of value.

Concept 5 Resources and Activities: Curating the Learning Experience

Article: Assessing through their Learning Experiences
Article Description:
It is the learning experience that we must construct to achieve the goal and assess the learner. This article will discuss how to set up your course goals to include the experiences needed to achieve that goal and show that they have achieved it.

Concept 6 Discussion Styles: Picking the Right Success

Article: Creating Success for Online Collaboration
Article Description:
Online discussions require structure if there is going to be any real change. This article presents four discussion styles and what success looks like for each one. (Hint: there is more than reflection available!)

Concept 7 Discussion Facilitation: Getting them to Success

Article: Facilitating Online Collaboration
Article description:
Facilitating online discussions, whether synchronously in a virtual setting or asynchronously with threaded discussions, require specific strategies. This article presents the facilitation strategies needed based on the style you are using.


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About Marian

My passion is centered around ensuring effective learning experiences that improve people's lives. Developing a learning mindset is my ultimate goal whether working with academic programs or corporate training; formal or informal learning practices. It is my belief that our potential for agility is limited only by our capacity for learning.

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