(Interviewer’s note: Kathryn has trained more than 1,000 market researchers, and is the author of How to Hire & Manage Market Research Agencies. She is the lead instructor at Research Rockstar. – Kirk E.)
Kirk: People hear phrases like “instructor-led,” “on-demand,” “synchronous learning,” and it gets a bit confusing. Can you clarify?
Kathryn: Sure. It’s less complicated than you might think. Let’s start by putting everything into two basic categories. First, there’s “Instructor-led Training”; this can be in a traditional classroom OR a virtual online classroom. Second, there’s “On-Demand Training,” which takes place only online. It’s also called “Self-Paced Learning.”
Kirk: O.K., now, I assume “synchronous learning” is anything led by an instructor in real time, and “asynchronous learning” is anything where a student is NOT interacting with an instructor—or other students—in real time.
Kathryn: That’s correct.
Kirk: In your expert opinion, which form of eLearning is better; “real-time” or “self-paced”?
Kathryn: (laughs) In my experience, it all depends. And I have to say first, there have been many improvements in eLearning. Especially in the last five years or so. Most people don’t know how dramatically things have changed.
Kirk: For example,…
Kathryn: Ask 10 people “what is eLearning?” and you will get 10 different responses. There are so many different perceptions out there. Someone defines it by what they’ve seen in their kid’s school; someone else recalls when eLearning was basically watching a videotape of a blackboard lecture.
Kirk: Is “real-time eLearning” essentially the same as attending a webinar?”
Kathryn: That’s a common question…and it always makes me cringe. Webinars can be useful, but there’s a HUGE difference. A webinar is a one-way communication, perhaps with a bit of Q & A at the end. There are no checkpoints, practice exercises, etc.
Effective eLearning is all about students achieving their learning objectives. That’s why our classes include activities, online assessments, and even homework. Students get plenty of feedback in a real learning situation, so they’ll know if they really understand something. Or to be more precise, true learning is designed to maximize comprehension and retention—whether there’s an “e” prefix or not.
Kirk: Wouldn’t it be simpler for everyone if all eLearning was of the “self-paced/on-demand” type? Students and instructors could do everything whenever it was most convenient. They wouldn’t have to synchronize their schedules.
Kathryn: Honestly, that was my thought when I began developing Research Rockstar’ first training programs. But I quickly found that many people want a “real instructor, in real time.” That’s how they learn best. With real-time eLearning, there’s an “immediacy” of experience that can make all the difference. And that’s not only interacting with the instructor, but also with other students.
Kirk: It sounds like a more multi-layered, dynamic experience.
Kathryn: Many students find that to be the case. Of course, as you might imagine, this requires excellent instructors.
Kirk: In order to make a virtual classroom as comfortable as a traditional one?
Kathryn: That’s right. Technology makes things easier, in terms of not having to get in your car and go somewhere else, but it adds another layer of complexity for those teaching the class. We choose all our instructors very carefully.
Kirk: Is there an ideal number of students for a real-time eLearning class?
Kathryn: I’d say the 4 -12 range is probably ideal, in terms of getting a certain peer interactivity benefit. If you have too many students, there is actually less interaction…for various reasons. And this might also be because our students are adult learners.
Kirk: A final question: what about onsite instruction, where instructors actually go to a client’s workplace?
Kathryn: That’s a good point. For all the benefits of online eLearning, there are times when optimal learning—especially certain things involving team-building skills—takes place in a “traditional” environment. That’s why we offer all types of instruction.
Research Rockstar asks: what learning environment do you like best for your own training needs?
- Instructor-led, online, real-time.
- On-demand, self-paced.
- Instructor-led, in-person.
- What learning? I know everything I need to!