It’s sometimes felt that you can only really train facts and figures with e-learning, that skills training requires face to face interventions. This is based on the fact that you can’t give direct feedback on behaviours to an individual within a piece of e-learning, but that’s only part of the story. In practical terms, e-learning can provide opportunities for skills training that can’t be achieved within a workshop environment, meaning that whilst the experience may not be the same, it certainly doesn’t have to be worse and may, indeed, be better.
Feedback is essential to developing new skills in any area. In any type of communication, we rely on the feedback to refine the message and, without feedback, we are just broadcasting into the void.
The trick to training skills within e-learning is to think about feedback and justification: we want people to explain the reasoning behind their decisions and to receive contextual feedback depending upon what their reasoning is. This can be done using scenarios where learners are able to get ‘inside the head’ of all the participants. They need to be able to understand where each person is coming from within the video of an encounter and to be able to direct the action (using branching video or other techniques). On top of this, they need to be able to explain their reasoning and on what basis they are making those decisions.
This process of decision making and justification, of explaining the reasoning, is the key to learning: just making a decision can be a formulaic activity. It can fall into the ‘click next’ pattern of behaviour. Having to justify that decision making process ensures people are engaging with the learning.
Diagnostic activities are also valuable, where learners see encounters play out and carry out diagnosis according to agreed criteria. We are looking for ways to get learners engaged with the dialogue, not simply to consume it in a typical ‘broadcast to viewer’ mindset. The ability to manipulate the dialogue, to carry out diagnosis and to explain reasoning are all techniques that can be used to support the engagement.
There is also a predictable pattern of behaviour that we follow when developing and refining new skills: starting with observation and moving into rehearsal, refinement and mastery. Rehearsal is the place where feedback is particularly important and, whilst we can’t give one to one feedback in e-learning, we can use interactive scenarios to give opportunities to rehearse.
The challenge with producing e-learning for skills training is not particularly that the media is not suited to the task, but rather that it takes a particular level of thought and consideration in the design and execution. Just working to a template will not cut the mustard.