The Building Blocks of Technology-Enabled Learning

New Technology on Black-Golden Watch Face.So, you’ve decided to start using technology-enabled learning in your corporate training program. Now what?

Well, just like there is not a one-size-fits-all solution to all of today’s training challenges, there also isn’t just a single way to “do” technology-enabled learning. Your particular implementation depends on a variety of factors, including:

  • Whether you’re developing the training in-house or purchasing it from a third-party vendor
  • Whether you are using a fully online model or a blended learning model
  • The comfort of the instructors and learners with the technologies you will use
  • The devices learners will use to access the training
  • And much more

However, regardless of the exact details of your implementation, all technology-enabled learning courses have a common set of building blocks. Some of these, like learning objectives, are the same for any type of course, online or off. Others, like analytics and reporting, are really only available in digital environments. This post explores each of these building blocks, and in the next we’ll look at specific tools and technologies in each category.

Note that the building blocks here aren’t things like “bite-sized modules” and “discussion boards.” These are items I’ve covered in depth in other articles. Instead, these are the pieces that need to be in place for technology-enabled learning to be a success. Most of the discussion will focus on courses, but these components are equally important for more modular learning experiences.

Learning objectives

Learning objectives are the foundation of any training course, and technology-enabled learning is no exception. Having well-defined learning objectives will help you select the specific technologies to use. For example, if learners simply need to be aware of information (e.g., for compliance), then the best technology may just be a pdf. If learners need to be able to do something, then the best technology would be a simulation or other hands-on activity. And if learners need to interact then you’ll need collaboration technologies.

Technology-enabled learning isn’t about using technology just because. It’s about using the right technology to meet a training need.

Clearly defined expectations

Traditional training courses usually follow a set schedule, and in traditional elearning, learners proceed through the course in a set linear fashion. This is not necessarily true of technology-enabled learning environments like massive open online courses (MOOCs).

Because learners will be accessing the course asynchronously and based on their own needs, it’s important to set clearly defined expectations. For example, are all parts of the course mandatory or are some of them optional? Does the course need to be completed according to a particular schedule? Will there be any instances when all learners are required to be in the same virtual place or perform the same activity at the same time?

You will not be there in person to answer questions about expectations or explain how the and activities course will function. This means that it must be crystal clear from the get-go. Therefore, you should plan to devote more time to defining expectations and schedules for fully online courses than you do for face-to-face ones.

Content

As with traditional courses, the core of technology-enabled learning is the content. The content is the basis of the knowledge and the skills learners need to master. For technology-enabled learning, there are two main components to consider: creating the content and delivering the content.

Content authoring tools

When people hear the term content authoring tool, they tend to think of e-learning authoring tools like Articulate Storyline and Captivate. This idea, however, is little too narrow. Loosely defined, a content authoring tool is any tool you use to create the content resources for your course.

Digital course content comes in a staggering variety of formats, including (but not limited to):

  • Videos
  • Screencasts
  • Podcasts
  • Presentations (PowerPoint, Prezi, etc.)
  • Website content
  • Blogs
  • Pdfs
  • Word documents
  • Wikis
  • Simulations
  • Games
  • Images
  • Infographics
  • Digital magazines
  • Elearning modules

Taken from this perspective, content authoring tools include both text editors and e-learning authoring tools, as well as everything else in between.

Content delivery tools

Once you’ve developed the content, you need to get it out to your learners. For the most part, this is still done using some kind of digital learning environment or learning management system (LMS). However, it doesn’t have to be. You could just as easily set up a course webpage with links to all of the content resources and activities. Your entire course could be on a YouTube channel or on iTunes. The main benefit of using an LMS is the ability to track learner progress and performance.

Whatever content delivery option you choose, keep this one thing in mind: mobile. And by that I don’t just mean mobile-friendly, but fully mobile-functional. Many LMS vendors say their product is mobile, when in reality it isn’t. Here are some common problems:

  • The LMS isn’t responsive. So while you can access the content on a mobile device, you have to scroll around awkwardly to read it.
  • The mobile functionality is limited. For example, you may be able to access the videos but not the discussion boards or the assessments.
  • It works on tablets, but not smartphones.

With the popularity of mobile learning growing rapidly, it’s important that your mobile course really is mobile.

Activities and assessments

What will learners do in your course? These should be tied to the learning objectives, and the expectations surrounding them should be clear.

Learning activities in face-to-face courses often involve breaking into small groups for discussions or working on projects. You can do these kinds of activities in technology-enabled learning courses as well, but you can also do a heck of a lot more. Here are nearly 50 ideas for online learning activities.

A few guidelines for creating activities and assessments:

  • Keep them short! Like 10 minutes short. The same goes for your learning content chunks.
  • Use real-world examples whenever possible.
  • Make sure they are learner-centered. This means they need to be directly relevant to learners.

Another aspect of activities and assessments is feedback. In technology-enabled learning environments, there are a several ways learners can get valuable feedback from both instructors and their fellow learners.

Interaction and collaboration

A widely touted advantage of instructor-led training (ILT) over digital learning is the ability for learners to interact and collaborate with instructors and with one another. The failure of many online courses to include interaction and collaboration doesn’t mean these things aren’t possible. In fact, the ability to interact and collaborate is greatly enhanced by technology because learners can communicate with one another from wherever they are, and even long after the course is over. In the next post, we will highlight several great collaboration technologies you can use in your digital courses.

Learner motivation and engagement

You might think that motivation is a strange thing to include on this list of building blocks, as it is an internal state of learners rather than something you can control, right? Not entirely.

There are many things you can do to increase learner motivation and engagement in technology-enabled learning environments. For example, gamification is a powerful way to use technology to increase learner motivation. You don’t even have to go all out. Even just adding a progress bar to individuals’ dashboards has been shown to increase engagement.

Support

Especially when you are transferring to a digital learning environment for the very first time, your learners will need support. This may take the form of technical support or learning support, instructor support or peer-to-peer support. Likely, it will require a little bit of all of these things.

Analytics and reporting

This is one area where digital learning leaves ILT in its dust. Digital learning environments, like LMSs, provide a huge amount of data about learner behaviors, from what resources they access to how long they spend with each one of them. By analyzing this data, you can pinpoint when learners are most engaged, and when they are falling asleep. Don’t take this information for granted — use it to support your learners and improve your course for the next time.

There you have it, eight building blocks, or essential elements, of technology-enabled learning. You’ve no doubt noticed that they aren’t so different from the essential elements of traditional learning. The next post will review the newest and best technologies available for successfully implementing all of these elements in a digital course.

Copyright 2015 Bryant Nielson. All Rights Reserved.

Bryant Nielson – Managing Director of CapitalWave Inc.– Being a big believer in Technology Enabled Learning, Bryant seeks to create awareness, motivate adoption and engage organizations and people in the changing business of education. Bryant is a entrepreneur, trainer, and strategic training adviser for many organizations. Bryant’s business career has been based on his results-oriented style of empowering the individual.

Learn more about Bryant at LinkedIn: www.linkedin.com/in/bryantnielson

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Bryant Nielson is heavily involved in the Corporate Training and Leadership and Talent space. He currently is the Managing Director for CapitalWave Inc and the training division, Financial Training Solutions. He brings a diverse corporate experience of organizational development, learning and talent development, and corporate training, that also includes personal coaching of top sales individuals and companies of all sizes. For the prior 4 years, Bryant was the Managing Director and Leadership and Talent Manager for Lengthen Your Stride! LLC. In this position, Nielson was the developer of all of the courses for MortgageMae University (MMU), the Realtor Development Center (RDC), and of Lengthen Your Stride! (LYS). In that position, he developed material, refined over many years of use and active training, and condensed the coursework and training to be high impact, natural learning, and comprehensive. Bryant has over 27 years of Senior Management experience encompasses running his own Training and mortgage firm, in New York City. He strongly believes that the corporate training is not to be static but should 'engage and inspire' students to greater productivity and performance.