Monday, November 9, 2009

Web-based Learning: The Missing Piece

Last week I made a cross-country journey from Connecticut to California to conduct training for a group of managers from our offices on the west coast and in the southwest. All the way out on the plane, I kept thinking, “Everything on this agenda could be handled through virtual classroom training.” That thought was also on my mind during training as we pushed through our first day’s agenda. With each new topic or segment, I was mentally redesigning the program for web delivery:

When our knowledgeable subject matter experts were speaking, I was thinking: they could be reaching more people through a web-based virtual classroom session.

When the managers in the training were sharing best practices, I was thinking: this discussion could be more in depth and have a longer shelf-life if we were doing this in a wiki.

When we covered some of the necessary static content through PowerPoint presentations, I was thinking: this could be repurposed as e-learning and assigned as pre-work.

When we broke the participants into groups for activities in which they had to tackle real business problems, I was thinking: they could have received these as case study assignments, worked on them, and submitted them by uploading them to a class SharePoint site or to our LMS.

In short, at every turn during the day I was reinforcing my belief that by using sound instructional design principles, this whole learning event could be delivered as an equivalent – or even improved – learning experience using web 2.0 tools and virtual classroom technology. Redesigning the program for the web would transform it from a single learning event into a program that could engage the learners for a longer period of time. It would also be scaleable and repeatable for other audiences. The day’s events just reaffirmed that what I have read in the Virtual-ILT research, and what I have experienced in my own web-delivered programs, really can be effective.

Then we went out to dinner.

There were eighteen of us: training participants, facilitators, and subject matter experts. We had a round of drinks at the bar before moving on to our oversized table for dinner. The conversation was lively. Some of it was personal, some of it was job related, and I'm happy to say some of it recapped key learning points from the class that day. At one point I sat back in my chair just to look around and listen to the group. I heard their laughter, their casual remarks, and their informal conversations. I saw the pleasure of relaxed camaraderie on their faces. At that moment I thought, “This is the piece we are still missing.” Our current generation of online learning, collaboration, and web 2.0 tools doesn’t do enough to replicate this part of the learning event. I’m sure they will someday soon. But will they serve beer?


  1. very true! The Web 2.0 learning movement has always struggled with the human factor... maybe we need virtual beer?

    Rob Hardy

  2. I would suppose that is why people have been trying to advocate Second Life for this, but I still feel that it can't quite compare.

  3. Rob and John,

    Thanks for your comments.

    While there really is no substitute for human interaction, in the short time that I have been reaching into the online world through linked in, twitter and my blog, I have already made several valuable connections. I have been able to convert some of those online connections into live interactions. So the potential to have a glass of wine or a beer with a colleague you meet or work with online is there. You just might have to defer it a bit.