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If you’ve ever taken an online course (from a webinar to a full-blown college course), you’ve undoubtedly experienced some of the growing pains of online education.  Particularly when “virtual learning” is meant to symbolize little more than the posting of bullet-pointed PowerPoints and YouTube clips, this can be frustrating and lead one to question whether online education is on par with traditional classroom learning.

As an original skeptic of online education, my early experiences did nothing but reinforce my bias for “brick and mortar” learning.  I loathed the time spent clicking through clipart presentations, taught at a third-grade level, that failed to either excite my “inner learner,” or even impart a modicum of new knowledge.

Five years ago, however, I was converted.  The source of my enlightenment?  Simply put, an educator who “got it,” who understood the unique qualities and benefits to teaching in an online environment.  

I’d love to believe that experience stood merely as the watershed moment in adult education when instructors everywhere realized the panacea of online learning.  Alas, poor examples of online courses still run rampant on the World Wide Interwebs.

So what’s the difference between mediocre (at best) and high quality online learning?  It’s in three aspects:


  • Collaboration - Sure, we pay good money for our people to be taught by experts.  I don’t expect that to change (and it shouldn’t).  But online learning, particularly because it engenders participation by professionals from all walks of life and all levels of the organization (without requiring time away from the office and the “business” of making money).  It’s through joint sharing and problem-solving that online courses really come to life.  It’s no longer about just the “expert’s” knowledge, but rather the collaborative knowledge of the group.
  • Discussion - High quality learning requires on-going participation in discussion forums and threads. The advantage of holding these discussions in an online environment stems from the ability of learners to think about their perspectives before simply sharing.  As a result, online discussions (if moderated well) provide greater depth and broader perspectives than is often experienced in a classroom full of peers.
  • Facilitation - Woven into the collaboration and discussion of online learning is the skill and passion of a dedicated facilitator.  The ability of this individual to prompt discussion, challenge perspectives in a way that furthers the collective thoughts of the group, to motivate and interest learners, and ensure respectful, insightful, and constructive dialogue is key.

When these three aspects exist, online learning holds an opportunity to provide for a wonderfully valuable developmental experience.  Throw in the cost-saving aspect of developing leaders from their desks, with on-going assessment, and exposure to the ideas and trends unique to their organization, and you’ve got a recipe for success.

TAGS     Online Learning,  Training
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About the Author

Trevor Nagle is a Consultant with Organization Development Consultants, Inc. (ODC). He posseses more than fifteen years of experience as an internal and external organizational development (OD) consultant. He has designed and implemented training and development and change management activities for public, private, and non-profit leaders and workforces. .. Read More »

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