Posted tagged ‘synchronous’

Face time

16 September 2013

My wife and I are studying Foundations of Business Strategy together. And by “studying”, I mean we are watching the videos – which are excellent, by the way.

My wife is a marketing professional, while I’ve been in the corporate sector for most of my working life, so we find ourselves regularly pausing the videos and launching into conversation about what was said. And it’s great!

I’m learning from her, she’s learning from me, and we’re both learning from the professor. Much more so than if either of us were studying alone.

A Moai in a field on Rapa Nui

Of course, peer-to-peer interaction isn’t a novel concept in e-learning. We have asynchronous tools such as online discussion forums, synchronous tools such as instant messaging, and semi-synchronous tools such as Twitter.

To add voice to the conversation we can use teleconferencing or VoIP. To add faces we can use webcams and maybe, one day, holograms.

But what strikes me about my interaction with my study buddy is that it’s so natural. Of course we know each other well, but being at the same place at the same time means we can read each other’s body language, recognise non-verbal cues, and follow the rhythm of the conversation. Which makes for a rich learning experience.

I recall thinking along similar lines after attending the local meetups that I organised for my colleagues and members of the public who were participating in a particularly popular mooc. I had never attended a mooc meetup before, and I severely underestimated it. The opportunity for the attendees to put a face to a name, share their experiences, gripe about common problems, suggest ways to solve them, and simply feel less alone left a lasting impression on me.

Then for good measure, I read Helen Blunden’s gorgeous Sometimes You Just Need to Meet Your PLN Face-to-Face, in which she recounts her experience meeting up with her Twitter buddies while on holiday in the UK. My favourite part appears towards the end of her post:

Reflecting on the LPITweetUp, the gathering made me realise that the relationship with our PLN is strengthened when we include a face-to-face connection – and you only need one of those to transform what was a digital online relationship to a whole new different level to one which has impact, meaningful and memorable.

Helen's tweetup partners enjoying a refreshing beverage

So my suggestion is to face up to better instructional design.

By all means, continue to facilitate asynchronous discussions – they’re incredibly important. And if you can, organise synchronous sessions, preferably featuring the participants’ voices and faces.

But if you want to transform the digital online relationship to a whole new different level which has meaningful and memorable impact, the answer is clear: you need face time.

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Effective virtual facilitation

14 October 2009

As virtual classes rapidly become de rigueur, the need for an effective virtual facilitation framework accelerates.

I propose the 5-stage model of e-moderation developed by world-renowned networked learning guru, Gilly Salmon.

While Salmon’s model primarily supports asynchronous networked learning, I contend that it supports synchronous networked learning just as well.

The Model

Salmon’s 5-stage model of e-moderation is based on, umm, 5 stages:

Salmon's 5-stage model of e-moderation

All 5 stages contribute to the learning process.

Here’s my take on each one, based on my reading of E-Moderating: The Key to Teaching & Learning Online and of course my own two-cent’s worth…

Stage 1: Access & motivation

This stage is about getting your remote participants up and running.

Inform your participants very early that the virtual class will be happening, when and where. Book the time out in their calendar, and let them know that they will be receiving an email to provide them with the access details. Also let them know that they won’t need any special equipment, just a phone (or headset) and an internet connection.

Provide them with any documents they will need beforehand.

Encourage the participants to enter the virtual class 30 minutes early so they can iron out any technical glitches. It’s a good idea to provide them with the contact details of someone for troubleshooting, and to explain if it all goes belly up, it’s not a disaster: just let it go and you can work out something later. (You might consider running a trial session, but that might be overkill – afterall, virtual platforms are fairly straightforward these days.)

Click Me!, courtesy of wagg66, stock.xchng.

On the motivation side, it’s a good idea to explain to the participants up front why they should attend the class. As previously noted, adult learners are problem-oriented, so you need to explain how spending this hour or so will help them in their job. You should also explain why they should do it in virtual format (eg so they don’t waste time traveling into the office).

I’d also suggest encouraging the participants to text chat as soon as they enter the virtual space, to introduce themselves and get to know each other. Not only does this initiate socialisation (see Stage 2), but it also checks that they know how to use the technology. Of course, the facilitator should greet everyone as they enter.

Stage 2: Online socialisation

Smiley, courtesy of ctr, stock.xchng.Socialising would have already gotten started on an ad hoc basis as the participants entered the virtual space and waited for official kickoff.

I’d suggest following this up with some sort of ice breaker – with a lot of people, you might want to keep it reined in. For example, it could be a simple question like Have you ever met anyone famous?

Following this, the facilitator should emphasise the collaborative nature of the session, and reinforce how it’s all about sharing ideas & experiences and learning from each other. Ask them what they personally want to achieve from the session. Cultivate a warm, friendly environment.

Stage 3: Information exchange

This is where the “serious” class begins. The facilitator should define the learning outcomes of the session (and tailor them according to the audience’s expectations), then refer to the information that was previously provided.

If there’s more information to disseminate (in instructivist format), then this is where it’s done.

Real-life examples should be used wherever possible.

Stage 4: Knowledge construction

Digger, courtesy of mzacha, stock.xchng.This is arguably the most important stage for learning.

Everyone’s at the same place at the same time, the ice is broken and they’re familiar with the information that’s been provided to them. Now it’s time to figure out what it all means.

The facilitator should actively invite the participants to discuss the key concepts, raise ideas and ask questions. It’s very important to ask them to share their experiences, and to suggest how they might apply the new learnings to their own role.

At this point, the participants are actually learning from each other. The facilitator guides, prompts, prods, questions, challenges and clarifies.

Close up of The Thinker, courtesy of marttj under Creative Commons, Flickr.Stage 5: Development

This stage is all about reflection, and it can be done after the actual session. A post-session worksheet might prove useful for this purpose.

The facilitator should also raise awareness of other resources that the participants can continue to use after the session. Perhaps other courses, websites, discussion forums, podcasts, blogs etc.

Evolving e-learning in the workplace

Using Salmon’s 5-stage model of e-moderation as a framework, SMEs can transform from sage on the stage to guide on the side.

And isn’t that what adult learning is all about?