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A lot of trainers and instructors have struggled with the question, “How can I take my full day workshop and create an online equivalent?”Design approaches for course conversion range from providing recorded webinar/webcast series to purist academic approaches following formulas like William Horton’s Absorb—Do—Connect methodology to even more complex evaluation-driven design using a Quality Matters rubric. As with a lot of things in life, the design approach selected often depends on the authoring tools and resources at your disposal.

In this first blog post in a series, we will discuss a main point of contention against repurposing face-to-face (F2F) workshops into eLearning: loss of human contact and interaction. When it comes to crafting online learning activities, how do you assemble them so that not only are the learning objectives covered, but the learners are thoroughly engaged in the material? Most often I am asked: “What can we do to bring personality to the online experience?” F2F instructors often use their dynamic personalities and passion for the subject matter to engage learners. One of the primary objectives of attending a workshop is to gather practitioners together to learn from each other.

In an email response, Deb Adair, Director of Quality Matters, called it “Social Presence,” writing: “Social facilitation effects, for instance, aren’t as powerful in [an] online class. This needs to be kept in mind for online group work – social loafing can be a bigger problem. On the other hand, the greater anonymity (facelessness) in online can be a benefit in encouraging broader participation – opportunity to have a voice has been equalized to a large extent.”

This is a great comeback to the usual “loss of social networking” argument from people who resistant to online learning. One could make the argument that you are reaching and engaging as many new (possibly introverted) learners as you could potentially be losing. Deb also emphasized the importance of building online community. Social media has put this agenda item on overdrive. Facebook and Twitter and especially discussion threads are important to incorporated into online lesson plans. Deb says, “If there is a reason to have people take the workshop as a group, other than to make it more cost effective to deliver, then you have to explicitly try to build a community online by providing and encouraging student-to-student interaction. This can be done through providing explicit incentives, encouraging interaction as pro-social behavior, and modeling the desired behavior.”

Ways for online instructors and designers to build community:

  1. Use a Wiki or Google application and assign groups to work on a project together. Bill Winfield teaches an online course on online course design. He breaks his twenty-five students into groups of three or four. Bill recommends providing resources and giving very specific instructions!
  2. Require reflection and discussion thread comments on a case study. In Campus Safety 101, learners are required to post their personal reaction to very real stories presented on the site.
  3. Provide a mixture of media. I have seen video presentations set next to a survey, next to a required discussion thread posting.
  4. Try Skype or free Google video conferencing to build social presence and community by going LIVE.
  5. Schedule a required Twitter time for rapid chatting on an assigned reading (I have not seen this done yet).

Can you comment below on more techniques to build social presence and community?

In the next post I will discuss organizing the online workshop learning activities consistently for the repeated Bloom Technique.

Material from this post came from the following sources: First I conducted an interview with Bill Winfield, an instructor with the UW eLearning Certificate Program, who teaches a four-week online course. I also use an example from Magna Publications, a publisher that developed and markets a completely asynchronous three-hour workshop on campus safety for administrators and professors (Campus Safety 101). Both Winfield and Magna utilize Moodle as their learning platform. I have also been communicating via email with Quality Matters Director, Deb Adair.

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