Executive Distance Learning – Getting Them To Work
I want to touch on Executive Distance Learning Programs for a moment. Being surrounded by home schoolers, online professors, traditional college students and developing my own training courses means that it’s a regular topic in my head. In this note, I want to touch on some specific issues related to “getting them to work.”
Here are my Big 3 – teacher contact, course training, and employer support.
Let’s start with teacher contact. In all knowledge transfer situations, you’re relying on someone with more knowledge to transfer some of that considerable knowledge into your head, right? In one on one situations, there’s a dynamic that happens where the teacher dynamically determines the base level of knowledge the student has, sets a target and then works on telling, showing, doing and reviewing in order to facilitate the transfer. In a classroom of 1 teacher to 10 students, the same process is happening but the teacher may start introducing tools to help determine initial competency. At 1 teacher to 30+ students, a base level of competency has to be assumed. Online we can see the same dynamic in play with the added challenge of non-verbal communication not happening.
So where does teacher contact come in? From the start. Outlining the challenges of the distance learning process up front, then addressing how those challenges will be addressed helps the student recognize the source of future frustration. “What has happened, will happen”, is a favorite saying around here. Students in this learning environment will at some point feel isolated and unmotivated. Knowing that up front doesn’t alleviate the pain completely, but it does shorten the time spent wallowing at the bottom of the change adoption cycle. You know it’s going to be an issue, so address it up front and explain the tools you have to overcome those challenges.
Along those same lines, the second of the Big 3, course training, is probably the first hurdle that students will encounter. How does this thing work? Once an instructor has been through a couple of courses, the focus on the student begins to wane. Implementing new technology coupled with the assumption that students are “experienced” can cause problems. Focusing on the user experience requires us to “define terms” so to speak. We need to make sure we’re all on the same page, even if it is repetitious. Students need to know the very basics: How often am I expected to log in? Just how do I post to the student forum? What do I do if an assignment isn’t working? Even seemingly simple things like attaching a file to an email, examples of what “good” work and “bad” work look like or where to turn for technical difficulties need to be addressed up front. Doing the tedious work of insuring that we’re all on the same page at the beginning is good preventative mojo.
Speaking of mojo, the last piece of the Big 3 is employer support. Like many company issues, effective use of the latest distance learning tools relies heavily on the HIPPO to be in support. (if you’re not familiar with the HIPPO acronym, it’s Highest Paid Person in the Organization – adhering to the Law of Acronyms that says “acronyms that work are rarely exact” which is close to the “one letter in the acronym is a word that barely makes sense”) Those of you in organizations with more than, say, 10 people in them know that the challenge of getting the HIPPO to truly support anything is a challenge. I feel your pain.
Try this. Most HIPPOs are concerned with an effective use of funds, so give the students the tools to build their case. A simple “Current Situation – Training Requested – Desired Future Result” that can be tied to some measure does wonders over time. The first interactions are painful because it’s new but in the course of time employees begin to think in rough ROI terms. Spending equated to achieving gains. Imagine that! Teaching your prized assets how to think in terms that can benefit the organization? It’s a twofer!
Those are my Big 3. Teacher Contact, Course Training, Employer Support. All leading toward making distance learning for executives more effective.