Here at Nelson Croom we strongly believe that online learning is much more effective when it is peer enriched. So our approach focuses on enabling groups of learners to benefit from the experience and expertise of others, as they would in a class room based session.
This is promoted via facilitated conversation when you engage with learners face to face, so how do we do that in practice as part of e-learning? Quite simply you take what works well within a class room and you adapt it to the online environment:
1. Ask questions
This is so simple, but that makes it easier to forget! Asking learners specific questions will often kick start conversation, especially where people are reluctant to join in a wider debate or contribute to a group discussion. People will learn from both right and wrong answers.
2. Get people talking about themselves
Encourage learners to share their experience, stories, ideas and advice with each other. Most people like talking about themselves and will often jump at the chance. Sharing professional experience is a key way in which adult learners figure out how to apply new ideas and theories to their own working lives. This is a useful technique to help develop new skills in an online environment.
3. Stimulate controversy
Ask learners to think about difficult issues, subjects that people can get passionate about. You can do this via case studies, news stories and ‘what would you do?’ type scenarios. Most people enjoy the minor conflicts this causes and it is a good tool for demonstrating other viewpoints and changing people’s attitudes.
4. Run polls, surveys and debates
Encourage learners to share their opinions on relevant topics and to take the time to see what other people thought. Again this can promote a change in learner attitudes and it can also be an effective data gathering exercise for those providing the learning.
Technical know how
5. Personalising the experience
We allow people to upload an image to use when making public contributions to help promote conversation. We respond to the data that learners enter into the system so that people are rewarded for their input. Our system also allows people to make personal notes (for their eyes only) so learners are not forced to share anything they don’t wish to.
6. Sharing other people’s answers
We share activity answers anonymously so that no-one is embarrassed when they get something ‘wrong’. People can view the last 20 or so entries into the system so they have a large pool of knowledge and experience to draw on. Where there is a specific correct answer to a question we make sure this is very clear so that people are not confused by things other learners may have said.
7. Sharing other people’s contributions
Learners can share things publically on many screens in our courses. This enables people to ask questions, make comments and share stories when a topic really engages them. It is an ongoing conversation that people can respond to and join in with, or simply learn more from by ‘listening in’.
8. Rating contributions
Drawing on the popular ideas of social websites like facebook we allow learners to rate public contributions so they can ‘like’ what others have to say. Highly rated contributions are displayed towards the top of the conversation so that especially useful stories or advice remain prominent.
This is all proving very successful and feedback from our learners is extremely positive, so we won’t tell them that we are just doing what good teachers have always done. Shhhh.