Providing Short-Term Online Learning During COVID-19

As the COVID-19 pandemic shut down workplaces across the U.S. and restricted many employees to working from home, many training organizations considered expanding their online training options. IREC specializes in instructional design for online learning and has received many inquiries about how to approach this process. 

To that end, we’ve compiled guidance to help you approach this decision and get a sense of where to start—whether online training is a short-term measure until you can resume in-person training (read on for guidance) or you are thinking about adding online options as a long-term addition to your training approaches (see our guidance on this topic here).

Short-Term Online Learning Options 

Moving all of your courses online may not be an option. Some skills can’t be practiced and demonstrated online. If you aren’t currently offering online courses, but are considering it as a permanent solution, this transition should not be rushed. But you may be thinking about ways to support your learners during these times of social distancing. This could be a great opportunity to provide “just in time” learning—it’s like walking down the hall to ask a colleague a question when you are stuck.

Here are a few ideas and resources to help you reach learners in the near term:

Record Brief Instructional Videos

An instructional video is one way to demonstrate a technique, convey a concept, or transfer knowledge. It doesn’t have to involve expensive equipment. But be sure the learner can see the visuals and hear the instructor clearly.

Keep it brief! These videos work best when they cover a discrete task. A 5-15 minute video can allow the learner to focus on that one task and digest the information.

Pair this with follow up questions for the learner to answer and then offer feedback. You can create a series of videos to cover a larger topic. 

TechSmith has some great tutorial videos to get you started. TechSmith products like Snagit Screen Capture and Recording Software cost about $50 (as of April 2020). More sophisticated video editing programs like Camtasia are about $250.
Why People Stop Watching Your Videos (And How to Avoid It!)

Create Job Aids

A job aid is something a person can refer to on the job when they need it. Think of it as a quick way to jog the memory. The job aid should help a learner apply their new knowledge on the job. Make it easy to access. If you are supplying a downloadable template, be sure to make it editable, like a document or a spreadsheet. Otherwise, PDF formats work well. If the learner will be accessing the job aid in the field, think about ways to optimize the viewing for a tablet or phone. 

The National Park Service offers some good tips on creating a job aid
Job Aid Design Tips & Tricks (Articulate e-learning authoring software)

Moderate an Online Discussion Forum

Each of us brings a wealth of experience and knowledge to any learning opportunity. Tap into this experience by giving your learners a chance to communicate with each other. We learn from our peers and we learn by teaching others. In this way, the learner is actively involved in shaping her learning. At the same time, we connect new learning to our prior experience. These are key principles of successful learning for adults.

4 Principles of Adult Learning and Why They Impact Training Design (IREC)
A Dozen Things You Need to Know about Adult Learning (Stanford Tomorrow’s Professor Postings)

Post Photos with Explanations

A picture is worth a thousand words. Our audience appreciates getting a good look at what they will see on the job, such as before and after photos, examples of code compliance, and what high-quality workmanship looks like. 

Show the image and ask the learner a specific question about it—this engages the learner mentally and gets them thinking, just like they will need to on the job. 

Include a concise and easy to understand explanation with each image and links to references where they can learn more about the technique or concept. 

If you are feeling ambitious, create a story to go along with the image and use the story to illustrate the concept. Our brains are more receptive and acquire new information better when presented with stories and examples than with just lecture alone. 

Photographs from the U.S. DOE Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy (EERE)

Promote Other Available Training Resources

We appreciate that your organization is trying to survive this hit to enrollment and also support clean energy workers. While you are preparing your online resources, you may want to send out an email or create a page on your site that directs learners to currently available training resources. Rather than losing potential students, you are more likely to create a loyal fan base that is ready to enroll when you re-open your doors. 

DOE EERE training
Weatherization Assistance Program Administrative Personnel Training

Relevant Tools

There are a variety of free and low-cost tools to get you online immediately:

  • Meeting tools: Zoom, WebEx, GoTo Meeting, Microsoft Teams, Google Meet, Adobe Connect
  • Screen recorders: Screencast-O-matic, Snag It
  • Video hosting platforms: YouTube, Vimeo
  • Online collaboration: Google Docs, Slack

Consider the Resources of Your Learners

If you are considering hosting live meetings as a short-term solution, think about bandwidth requirements. A Bloomberg trial found that Apple’s Facetime video calls needed 2.9 megabytes per minute, Facebook Messenger needed 3.5 MB/minute, WebX needed 4.2 MB/minute, and WhatsApp needed 4.7 MB/minute. 

Those were fairly skinny bandwidth demands, at least next to the 6.8 MB/minute needed for Skype, 7.5 MB/minute for Zoom, and chart-busting 14.1 megabytes per minute for Google Hangouts. (Thanks to Kelly Cutchin, SMS, for compiling these statistics.) 

Find out from learners what access they have: computer, tablet, or phone. Some learners will need to access everything via phone. 

Be creative and use multiple tools. Depending on your audience, you may think about deploying content via email or text, then hold a live meeting to discuss. Open a shared workspace and invite learners “show and tell” based on photos of their home or job site. 

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