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Evaluating online learningpixel.gif (807 bytes)

pixel.gif (807 bytes) Better learning
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HERE'S TWO IDEAS for ways to improve effectiveness without raising costs or reducing volumes:
  1. Do the right thing
  2. Do it more expertly

Do the right thing
One of the most powerful ways of improving effectiveness is to make sure that you're using the right method for the job. All training methods - traditional or modern - have their place, but too often they are used out of habit, familiarity or for simplicity, when they don't do the job at all.

There are four important considerations in selecting a training method for its effectiveness in meeting a particular need:

  1. Match the method to the phase in the learning process. Some methods may be well suited to the preparation phase (providing an overview, reducing anxieties, getting to know each other), others to the delivery of learning content. Still others may be ideal for providing opportunities for practice, for facilitating feedback and reflection, or for supporting application on the job.
  2. Match the method to the preferred learning style. Learners differ in the way they like to learn. Given that you can identify a predominant style for your target population, try to identify a method that will be compatible.
  3. Match the method to the type of learning. Your learning objectives are likely to be a mixture of knowledge, skills and attitudes. Each of these - and their sub-varieties - requires a different learning strategy and possibly a different learning environment. Select a method that's compatible with the type of learning that you are aiming to achieve.
  4. Match the method to the media requirements. Some learning can be accomplished with text and graphics, while some requires the assistance of audio-visual media. In other cases, it's essential that the learner has access to equipment or situations that can not be brought into a classroom nor simulated on a computer.

This is a lot to take into account and you may never find a single, perfect solution. What is increasingly likely is that you'll use a component approach - mixing methods that, in combination, provide everything that you need to do the job.

Do it more expertly
It does matter which methods you use, but not as much as the way that you use them. Thomas L Russell, of North Carolina State University, made a compilation of research into the comparative effectiveness of different training media and methods, stretching over several decades. One common finding stood out - no method was inherently superior. In fact Russell's research has been published under the heading 'the no significant difference phenomenon'. What did become evident from the research was that every method was capable of being used well or badly. In fact, the quality of design or delivery was more important than the choice of method.

So, any contribution you can make to improving the quality of design and delivery must make an important contribution to the effectiveness of your training. What can you do?

  • ensure that the trainers you have are up to the job (sorry, it has to be said)
  • don't assume that the same trainers will be equally suited to both design and delivery
  • search out best practice - techniques that give proven results
  • train the trainer

An interesting example of the latter is the Trainer Activity Profile (TAP) methodology, developed by the Institute of IT Training to improve the quality of classroom delivery. A survey (July 1999) of the 500 people who have so far received TAP training showed that:

  • 50% believed that TAP had made a great difference to the way they train and 50% said it had made some difference
  • 77% said that they always or usually receive better happy sheet marks from delegates

Of course these are not necessarily indicators of effectiveness, but they do indicate that training trainers can make a difference. As they say, if a job's worth doing …

The effect of better learning
Taking our previous example as a starting point, this would be the effect of improving effectiveness by 20% while holding volume and costs:

 

Before

After

Volume

500

500

Cost

500,000

500,000

Benefits

600,000

720,000

Return

100,000

220,000

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                                                     Fastrak Consulting Ltd, 1999. All rights reserved.                                Last revised 27/8/99