Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Wikis: The New Whiteboard of the Virtual World

One thing you can say is true about trainers: we love our flip charts and whiteboards. Where would we be without these simple tools that enable us to draw out all those great ideas from our class participants? Think of the satisfaction we feel when we can tell they are "getting it" based on the quality of their contributions added to our flip charts or when we see them building on each other's ideas on the white board. We know real learning is taking place - and it took nothing more than a few good questions and a blank white piece of paper to get there.

I have a theory that a lot of resistance to online learning can be attributed to our love of the flip chart. Trainers and trainees alike often say things like, "there is no substitute for classroom learning" or "you just can't get the same level of interaction and participation online." When I hear these statements, what I really hear is people pining for those exercises that allow us to wallpaper the room with great ideas and shared learning. We love to take a step back, look around the room and admire the power of the classroom learning experience. In shifting to online learning, we are concerned about losing the ability to create that impact.

Enter wikis. Wikis are websites that use wiki software to allow users to create, edit and link pages online. By now almost everyone has looked up information on (or at least heard of it). It is a free encyclopedia that was created through online collaboration and editing by users. It is essentially an enormous virtual whiteboard. On a smaller scale, wikis can be used for collaboration in online learning. In my company, we recently converted an onboarding program from classroom to online. There was concern that this was not going to work because we were losing the important classroom interactions. To compensate, we went to and signed up for a private label account that allows us to use wikis for online exercises and collaboration as part of our class. We constructed a variety of exercises involving the wiki. For example, we have an exercise in which each class member must review a separate online module and write a review of it on the wiki. Class members read and share comments on each others reviews helping them to get more out of the online modules than they would if they were just viewing them on their own. We have another exercise in which we ask the class members to review one of our marketing tools and then go to the wiki space and write down ways this can be used with customers. They comment and build on each others ideas over the course of a few days. At the end of the exercise, the class participants take away a very practical list of ways to leverage the tool.

To learn more about how wikis work, click here to see a youtube video that does a great job of explaining them.

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