The Internet has changed how we learn. It’s no longer just about sitting in front of a speaker or reading a workbook and doing activities. Today, no matter their readiness for online learning, the people who take your training are more likely than not going to use technology to access information, communicate with peers, and collaborate on projects.
After months of planning, designing, and working, you’re ready to offer your first online course. It’s been a detailed process that involved buy-in from administrators and department heads, and training for your staff. You’ve got the technology set up and everything has been tested, re-tested, and is as close to perfect as it’s going to be. Your team is — without a doubt — ready to make the leap to computer-based training.
But are your learners?
If you’re like program managers at some organizations, you may think too much. Are you so focused on your own project and deliverables that you forget to consider your learners?
An evaluation can quickly clear up any questions.
If you question your learners about what they already know about training, you can uncover many easy-to-resolve issues. Many of the same reasons that might you worked through to launch your online program can also apply to learners.
Perhaps they fear technology. Or they don’t have access to the right equipment. They feel unmotivated. They might lack even the most rudimentary skills for working online. Additionally, some people just have a learning style that doesn’t mesh with what your course offers.
Online Learning Readiness Assessment
Online learning programs pose challenges that may be similar to in-person education. Unengaged participants, conflicting schedules, and learners’ discomfort — maybe they fail to see why the training is necessary for their professional development? Perhaps they’re just not comfortable learning online? — are some of the most common walls you can hit when administering online programs.
Your learners and instructors can overcome these obstacles. But you need to be able to identify them early on. Preparing your staff and participants for online learning will make your course more successful.
Start by conducting an online learning assessment. This way, learners and instructors will be able to identify their strengths and weaknesses.
Basic computer skills
As a learning management system, we’ve worked with countless agencies and programs. And our experience includes thousands of online learners. To start, we send every learner an orientation quiz that asks participants to rate themselves in these areas:
- Comfort taking an online course
- Uploading and downloading files
- Researching information online
- Sending and receiving e-mails
- Participating in discussion forums and message boards
- Experience using video conference tools (Zoom, Skype, Google Meet)
Prior to the course, make sure to check the technical requirements as well. Do they have the hardware and apps they need for the program? If not, can they secure it on time and on their own? Doing this before the course begins means you can correct courses early on. Otherwise, you may face interruptions and delays during the program.
Motivation and preparedness
Next, discuss your online learners’ feelings towards the program:
- Are they nervous?
- Do they feel equipped to learn?
- Do they have a goal for the program?
- Are they excited to dive into the material?
- What’s their reward for participating? (This can be as simple as getting a state-required certification)
Even if they have every skill and can easily complete the program, you won’t see much success with unengaged learners. So it pays to check their mindset before you jump in.
Finally, think about the skills your online learners need to successfully complete the course. Then, include assessment questions related to these into a “readiness quiz” to be completed before class begins. The results will tell students what to expect and help you understand what areas they’ll need extra assistance with.
Here are some examples from elsewhere that can help you figure out how to structure your assessment quiz:
Readiness for Online Learning, Pennsylvania State University
Online Readiness Self-Assessment, Southern Arkansas University
Preparing for onboarding your online learners
Once your pre-course assessment is ready, it’s time to welcome participants into your program. Thankfully, onboarding online learners is a lot like onboarding regular learners, except easier. You can begin by distributing the resources as a folder for students to download and review. This folder includes:
- Course requirements
- An evaluation calendar
- Educational resources (PDFs, videos, slide presentations, and more)
- Logins and credentials for any program you’ll provide (your LMS, company email, etc)
- Guides or tutorials for the software
- Contact information for instructors and admin staff
Next, give them enough time to familiarize themselves with the tools and the content. For this, you’ll want to send the resources at least a week before the course is set to begin.
If you’re unsure how to onboard online participants, here’s a guide we compiled for onboarding remote staff. We’re sure you’ll be able to gather inspiration and translate many of the concepts from work to professional development environments.