online learning

Taking your training online – what works?

At the start of the Covid-19 pandemic, many NGOs moved their training online, often working at high speed and with little previous experience.

Though the shift proved to be a steep learning curve, they achieved astonishing results in very challenging circumstances.

In December, Bond and The Open University met with a group of NGOs to reflect on what we’ve learnt from moving our training online. Here are seven key considerations to think about before taking training online:

Designing for collaboration and social learning is key

Learners want practical activities that readily apply to their work, as well as interaction and peer-learning opportunities. Avoid thinking “this will never work online” and get those creative juices flowing.

Try collaborative online tools such as Google suite (including Jamboard), Miro and Padlet to co-create proposals, plans, presentations and budgets. These can be used either in real time or when learners aren’t all online at the same time.

Create fun quizzes, polls, or formal assessments with survey and quiz tools such as Mentimeter, Kahoot or Google forms to help learners with concentration and to relax around their fellow classmates.

Use one of the free or low-cost messaging platforms such as Slack, WhatsApp or Basecamp to create discussion between learners – or use a post-it wall (with Jamboard or Miro) for more creative communication. You don’t always need a full online learning platform.

Being part of a learning community involves taking responsibility for your own wellbeing and the wellbeing of others as best you can. For online learning, this means not giving any personal contact details, ensuring you are happy with your privacy settings and not sharing content that is not already in the public domain. See these examples of guidance for online conduct from FutureLearn and The Open University.

Keep the tech simple

There are a lot of online platforms and collaboration tools out there. Each has strengths and weaknesses. Be guided by your learning objectives – select technology carefully to facilitate the learning and interaction you need, rather than allowing the latest exciting features of an app to tempt you. There’s no need to pay a premium for features you don’t need.

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We’ve found it’s better to stick to one or two apps in one course to avoid learners feeling they need a course on the tech before they can take the course they’ve paid for. Provide tech tutorials and early, fun opportunities for learners to get familiar with the tech they’ll be using later in the course. Ice-breakers and introductions are perfect for this.

Bandwidth and connectivity can present problems for some learners. Bear this in mind when selecting tech, and make sure you have a backup plan. Recordings and transcripts of live sessions, downloads for working offline and a flexible approach to how activities can be completed are workarounds that we’ve found helpful.

Balance facilitation, access and cost

Learners value feedback and tutor support. Peer learning often works best with a facilitator to guide discussion. But facilitation is expensive, and expensive training means less of it or less access to it.

Balancing the cost of facilitation with the demand for learner support as well as accessible, affordable training is tricky. Try out some “light touch” support such as facilitators commenting on discussions at set points in a course or make more use of peer review and feedback.

Use technology to support learners where possible. Online quizzes with standard feedback for correct and incorrect answers are a great way of giving feedback without facilitation costs. Anticipate questions and provide FAQs, or embed pre-recorded tutorial videos for those who need more support.

Design for accessibility and inclusion

Online training has rid us of the geographical barrier. But engaging online creates its own challenges for some. Think through how you would enable access to participants with a variety of needs. Some approaches we’ve seen include:

  • Accommodating sign language interpreters in live online sessions
  • Automatic audio transcription in live online sessions and for YouTube videos
  • Learning platforms, slides and PDFs optimised for screen readers
  • Materials available for download or printing in advance
  • Sensitising participants at the start of a course to the different needs of others

With the greater diversity of learners that online learning can bring, paying attention to your language, and inter-cultural sensitivity is vital. Review your training materials and the language used – they should be accessible, inclusive, and avoid perpetuating power imbalances. See Bond’s language guide for support with this.

Preparation, preparation, preparation

It should go without saying, but nothing beats thorough preparation, particularly online.

Use a detailed session plan to walk through every step of a live online session. Treat it like a dress rehearsal. Have dummy participants enroll. Share your screen, play that video, click on every link, trial every app. Log yourself in as a participant so you can experience what they will see and hear.

Do the same with your online learning platform and any collaborative tools you’re using.

Some organisations use a “producer” to support the smooth running of a session. They deal with connectivity issues, create breakout groups, share files, run polls and monitor the chat, freeing up the facilitator to concentrate on the interaction with learners.

Make collaborative learning design meaningful

It’s important to involve practitioners from your target learner group in the early stages of learning design. The Open University uses learning design workshops to identify learning outcomes, learner characteristics and course content, and critical readers to review initial drafts of materials.

Make sure you ask collaborators for feedback on the process, and whether they feel their voices were heard and acted upon.

Join The Open University’s Take Your Training Online (TYTO) programme

TYTO is a free online course for trainers to develop their skills in making online training more engaging and effective. It was developed with input from NGOs in Europe, Asia and Africa. It takes between six and eight hours to study. Each one-hour session can be studied independently, at your own pace and time.

Want to find out more? Come to our webinar Take your training online – a deeper dive on Friday 11 February, 11.00 – 12.30.

This blog was written in collaboration with The Open University.