Since the events of early 2020 unfolded, many of us have held umpteen webinars, virtual workshops, online training courses and even developed digital conferences. Sometimes though, it is easy to forget that the Open University has been pioneering remote education since 1969 and that online learning existed as a powerful modality before the COVID-19 pandemic disrupted our lives. The events of the last year and amazing resilience of organisations pivoting to online activities have reaffirmed that online training and learning is not only possible, but incredibly valuable.
Sceptics about the value of online training and learning still abound. How often have you heard the phrase “virtual training can’t replace the value of being in a training room with real people”? Or the statement that “some topics are too sensitive to teach online”? How can we persuasively make the case for online delivery?
We need to acknowledge some of the inevitable limitations first. Yes, Zoom fatigue is a real thing. No, online learning cannot fully replace the social connections created by learning with your peers in a physical place. There are some subjects it is incredibly difficult to teach online. Until immersive learning and alternative reality software develop to currently unfathomable levels, how could we effectively learn to swim via the internet? Acknowledging these limitations doesn’t mean online learning is a less powerful way to achieve educational outcomes, it means we need to design it better.
Online learning has many benefits, and it allows us to push the boundaries of what was widely considered possible before the COVID-19 pandemic disrupted our ways of working.
Here are five reasons why online is here to stay:
1. Connecting online removes geographic barriers for learners, widening reach.
Convening workshops and training sessions online means no travel time, no travel costs and fewer complicated logistics for learners, such as finding unknown city-centre locations and organising alternative care arrangements for the day. Hypothetically, holding online training means learners can call in to a workshop from Papa Westray in Orkney, or Papua New Guinea. Removing geographic barriers for your learners by delivering online means that you can widen and extend the reach of your learning materials. Last year, JustRight Scotland’s online training reached 400 individuals through 30 training sessions about a variety of different topics, exploring what legal rights mean in practice.
2. Using inclusive, online tools makes participation possible for all learners.
By delivering online you also remove physical barriers to participation during a training session, making methodologies more inclusive and exercises cognisant of positionality and power. Using videoconferencing software and well-designed tech tools for participative exercises should mean that you can remove common problems such as a participant sitting too far away from the projector screen to comfortably read slides, or being too far away from the facilitator to understand their instructions. Instead of participants crowding around a physical flipchart and competing for the same post-it notes or pens, a collaborative digital whiteboard can create a non-hierarchical space, enabling all learners to contribute at the same time. Fun online tools to try out include: Mentimeter, Miro, and Padlet.
3. Online software integrates assistive technology, improving accessibility.
Making the most of online software’s in-built features like automatic subtitles and using assistive technologies such as text-to-speech, means that online learning materials can be made more accessible. By opting for an online session, you not only remove the nightmare possibility of a physically inaccessible training room (for example, where a door is too narrow for a wheelchair), you give learners the power to control their own learning environment and curate their own classroom. Universally designing materials (with all learners in mind from the outset) gives learners the choice to adjust the materials to suit them. Compared to requesting large print paper printouts at a workshop, online learners can transform the file type, background colour and text size within digital handouts to suit their requirements and learning preferences.
4. Online delivery increases the opportunity to strategically repurpose learning materials in future.
Recording an online webinar or workshop not only means that learners can choose to watch the session back (which is good for accessibility), it means that you can repurpose the digital materials for different audiences in future (with the right permissions, of course). For example, a two-hour webinar recording can be turned into a two-minute summary for social media promotion. A lengthy question and answer section can be transformed from a transcript to a succinct frequently asked questions (FAQ) page for a website. Popular workshops or presentations can be pre-recorded, freeing up live delivery time to unpack the issue in detail (find out more about the benefits of a flipped classroom) which also saves you future preparation time. Delivering online not only gives the learner more choice, but it also gives you, the creator, opportunities to share the learning in strategic ways.
5. Online learning compared to in-person delivery is more environmentally friendly.
Whilst the heating in tenement flats across Scotland might not be as efficient as the heating in a purpose-built training centre, online learning is more environmentally friendly. Research conducted by the Open University in 2005 (PDF) found that online learning compared to in-person higher education was more environmentally friendly, using 90% less energy and producing 85% fewer carbon dioxide emissions associated with travel and buildings. Online learning using electronic devices compared to print based remote learning used 20% less energy and produced 12% fewer carbon dioxide too. This blog by Designing Digitally gives you an overview of the typical online learning energy savings, including: reduced paper and ink cartridge waste, less heat and light associated with premises, and less transport and the carbon associated with it.
Not convinced yet?
98% of education practitioners surveyed by Oxford University (PDF) in February 2021 expected digital learning to be embedded globally in the future.
Here at JRS Knowhow, we can help you navigate some of the complexities and risks associated with taking your training and learning materials online. We work with our clients to co-design intentional learning experiences. We focus on creating accessible, inclusive, engaging and fun learning experiences.
Find out more about our approach to work.