Overview

Driven by a sluggish economy, growing travel costs, and the ever-increasing need to communicate with speed and convenience, the use of Internet technologies for delivering training has risen dramatically. The phraseology of this training practice differs (e-learning, online training, virtual classrooms, etc) but the practice is the same – delivery of training content via remote presentation technologies. In this article I will not focus on the technology used, but instead I will attempt to reinforce the basic principles needed for effective training to occur.

That having been said – I work for Citrix. This means I have access to the finest products in the world for doing things remotely. As a long-time Citrix Instructor, I’ve enjoyed the fact that the best tools for teaching Citrix Technology – is Citrix Technology! With our XenDesktop product I can deliver a pre-configured lab machine to anyone, anywhere – and do it securely, with LAN like performance. Classroom cleanup and preparation for the next class – is as simple as a reboot. Best of all, I don’t have to require allot of software be installed on the student’s own computer for the class to be successful.
In addition to XenDesktop, Citrix Online’s award winning products are already leveraged worldwide to conducting training sessions, and we are eagerly awaiting a new product from Citrix Online named ‘GoToTraining’. GoToTraining will include the proven performance and excellent features of existing products, but adds extremely useful features specifically for training situations. GoToTraining builds upon the success of:

  • GoToMeeting
  • GoToWebinar
  • GoToAssist
  • GoToMyPC

To learn more about the Citrix Online products click here…

If you are interested in the GoToTraining Beta program, click here…

Expectations

What this article is:

  • A collection of tips, best practices, and suggestions for effective delivery of online training
  • A list of additional tools that may prove useful when addressing a remote audience

What this article is not:

  • A feature by feature comparison of Citrix products vs. competing products
  • A corporate standard for remote training (though you should consider having one)

This article should be considered by the following audience:

  • Instructors
  • Courseware Designers
  • Course Facilitators

Challenges

Relatively speaking, online training is a new practice. As such, many students find the transition from traditional classroom instruction difficult. The typical dynamics present in the classroom are conspicuously absent from most online training and this can leave students feeling disengaged, bored, and without any control over their learning experience. Primarily, it is the lack of visual cues and non-verbal interaction that present the largest challenge. Without being able to see the instructor or the other students within the class, students tend to withdraw and not ask questions. Without this critical dialogue between instructor and student, the knowledge transfer process suffers greatly.

Instructors also suffer from the lack of visual prompting they are accustomed to in a classroom environment. Just like students rely on the body language of the instructor and of other students within the class to identify the appropriate time to comment or pose a question – instructors rely on the facial expressions of the students as an indicator of understanding. All too often, the online instructor is oblivious to fact that one or more students are confused (or need additional information) and blindly continues teaching – frustrating or alienating the student(s).

It is important to note that many effective (classroom) instructors and confident public speakers take for granted that they will be as effective when teaching in an online classroom environment. It is a very different experience teaching an ‘unseen audience’ for the first time, and adjustments must be made. For an instructor, practice sessions are critical.

Successful educators know that ‘dialogue’ promotes learning much more effectively than ‘monologue’. But it’s very common for an online training session to become a monologue – and thus not as effective as a classroom environment.

Don’t let this happen to you

Let me share a funny story with you. Well – it’s funny to me, in hindsight. First a little background… I’ve been teaching since the early 1990s, I started teaching while in military service, and have taught in some pretty unorthodox places, such as tents, foxholes, bunkers, and while in moving vehicles. Classrooms are what you make of them, and the online classroom is no different. A good instructor must be creative and adaptable. However I was completely unprepared for the online classroom when I first started teaching remotely. Well, on to the story…

Shortly after joining Citrix, I had to deliver an online class to sixteen students (Citrix Partners) scattered throughout the United States. My plan was to use GoToMeeting for the presentation and Q&A session and XenDesktop for the lab portion – pretty simple and typical here at Citrix. I prepared for the class as I always do, reviewing the material and testing the labs. Everything was ready – and I was confident that my years of classroom teaching experience would ensure a successful outcome. I was wrong.

At the appointed time, students began connecting to the GoToMeeting environment and I began introducing myself to them and making chit-chat – just like I always greet students while waiting for class to start. As is typical, certain students had issues with Internet connectivity, speakerphones, muting controls, etc. Anytime you ask someone to do something they don’t normally do, or have never done, these things will happen. This is just part of the human experience. However, this led to the class starting a little late and that added to my stress level as the instructor.

After introductions, it was time to dive into the technical content and that’s when things fell apart – for me. I began my lecture and as I was staring at my computer screen, talking away, I suddenly realized my speech patterns were off, I was short of breath, the normal pauses in my speech were cut short to the point that I wasn’t getting enough oxygen. Was this a heart attack? I was panicking for some unknown reason and I actually blacked out for a few seconds. The students assumed there was a problem with my Internet connection when they couldn’t hear me. It was embarrassing. I had to teach the rest of the class on my back on my office floor, forcing myself to breath properly – pretty strange huh?

Why did this happen to an experienced instructor?
It happened because I was totally unprepared for the online classroom. In a normal classroom environment I tend to walk around the room, pause for effect, ask questions of the students, and write on a whiteboard – and what am I doing during these moments? Breathing! But time is compressed when all you have to do is sit at your computer, talk and click a mouse. So the time I normally spent breathing, I filled with words and deprived myself of oxygen.

Why do I share this embarrassing story with you? Well, besides the fact that I think we should all be able to laugh at ourselves, I do it to illustrate that there really is something special about online teaching and that the moment we take something for granted, we should plan on being surprised…
This strange experience is the whole impetus behind this three part article. I want to help other ‘traditional’ instructors prepare for doing things differently, in the online learning realm. But if you’re not already an experienced instructor, I have something for you too. The good news is – the basics of good instructional techniques still apply in the online classroom. So for some of you, this will all be a refresher course.

Please continue to part two of this article, where we’ll look at some best practices and suggestions for delivering effective online training.