Cost-cutting, leaner organizations--these are familiar phrases these days. As budgets shrink, training and development are among the first areas to feel the pinch. Organizations are trimming travel and lodging costs used to send employees on week-long seminars. Yet training plays a strategic role because of its impact on performance improvement and organizational effectiveness; in response, organizations are looking to online training to keep developing the "just-in-time" skills and competencies crucial to keeping a competitive edge in a changing world.
Over the past decade, many universities and training providers have ventured into online programs, spinning off executive as well as continuing education programs (Taylor, 2001). Not all of them, however, have created effective learning environments where their adult learners can fully benefit from the online experience.
Many online training programs have been built without considering crucial social dimensions of the online teaching/learning process. Incorporating these dimensions, using principles of communication and creation of learning communities, helps create an effective learning space for participants. A sense of connectedness is among the most important of these principles.
From The Individual To The Community
Research shows that effective online training environments focus on creating communities of learning (DiRamio, 2005). That is, a place where participants feel they have something to offer, and where they know their point of view and expertise is valued; this in turn leads to personal involvement. Experiencing a sense of belonging has been strongly correlated with the motivation to complete an academic course (Hagerty and Patusky, 1995). Therefore online providers must instill that sense of belonging as the individual is sitting alone in front of a computer.
A few ways online training can reinforce a sense of connectedness:
-- Provide assignments that promote sharing participants' expertise on the topic and theory under discussion. The information covered must provide a tool for practical problem-solving. Moreover, it is very important that adult learners be able to integrate what is learned in the online classroom with their own experiences, providing the opportunity of sharing those experiences with others. For example, in an international business course, a student in Asia can bring her unique expertise on doing business in that region to bear, while a student in South America can speak with authority about specifics in his geographic area. This chance to share expertise within the online environment reinforces a sense of belonging.
-- Offer opportunities for informal networking. Some online courses provide an environment within the classroom where informal conversations happen; just like in a university cafeteria, students in this "virtual café" can talk about their personal interests, hobbies, vacation plans, etc. It is also important to provide participants the opportunity to talk about their professional plans and goals: Research shows that online informal environments help create trust, which is crucial to teamwork.
-- Put a face to a name. Posting photos of faculty in the online classroom creates a sense of presence and familiarity for students. Students also should have the option of posting their photo. Putting a face to a name helps form a better sense of awareness and connectedness between students and faculty as well as among students.
Technology has made it possible to keep training as part of the strategy implementation through online learning environments, in a more cost-effective manner. Next time you think of bringing people together, consider using a virtual environment. It has virtually endless possibilities.
DiRamio, D. (2005). Assessment: Measuring online community (interview by R. Kelly, ed.) Online Cl@ssroom (newsletter), June, pp. 2–3. http://www.magnapubs.com/issues/magnapubs_oc/
Hagerty, B.M.K. and Patusky, K. (1995). Developing a measure of sense of belonging. Nursing Research, 44(1), 9–13. nursingresearchonline.
Taylor, M. (2001). Unplanned Obsolescence and the New Network Culture. Chronicle of Higher Education. 48, 16.
Dr. Ivonne Chirino-Klevans joined Walden University in 2005 as a professor of organizational psychology and currently serves as Program Director for the Center for International Programs. The International Management Certificate is a post-bachelor business certificate designed to give business professionals in Latin America international business acumen and English language skills.
Her extensive experience includes years of working with Fortune 500 companies in designing training and development programs and serving as Program Director for Duke Corporate Education.
Dr. Chirino-Klevans received her Ph.D. in Psychology from Universidad Iberoamericana, and also holds an MBA from Universidad de las Americas, and a Masters in Psychology from Georgia College and State University. Earlier in her career, she also served as the psychologist for the Mexican national rowing team, and contributed to the team winning a silver medal at the 1991 Pan Am Games. She herself is a Pan American games medallist in gymnastics.
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