Training can be divided into an educational component and a practice or skill-building component. Often in traditional classroom training, there is a lecture explaining concepts and methods followed by exercises or homework designed to build understanding and skills. In an algebra class, a lecture on factoring polynomials is the educational component, and the exercises consist of practicing factoring them, and hopefully building skills. If a lot of information is provided to the learner during the lecture without an opportunity to develop an understanding and skills, learners will often become confused and not learn much. This is typical of what happens when the presentation of educational material is long and doesn’t include practice components.
Often, classroom time is limited. As a result, the trainer uses all the time to provide information, and allocates little or no time for in-class skill-building exercises. I once gave a two-day short course on basic statistical methods in a class where all the time was needed for lecture to complete the advertised course. Examples were used to motivate each topic. I would present a relevant problem and lead the class through the obvious parts until we needed new educational material to solve it. Then, the new content was presented. However, the students were completely confused before the end of the first day. There was a lot of information presented with no time for the students to digest any of it on their own. They sat passively listening to my lecture. I gave the identical class over a semester with assigned homework and again built the lecture around examples to motivate the learners. I provided support where it was needed. The in-class exercises coupled with homework helped the students to learn. In fact, they did well, with over half receiving A’s during the 28 years I taught the class.
E-learning is self-paced and, therefore, can have an advantage over classroom training. Since trainers are not involved, short educational components can be punctuated with relevant exercises. For example, my statistical methods class could be taught online in short segments with exercises after each segment. People wanting to learn HTML can purchase training from the Code Academy. They do an excellent job of presenting short sections of online text followed by skill-building exercises, while also providing interactive help if learners are struggling to apply the concepts.
Teaching communications skills provides an excellent example of the need for skill-building exercises. Sales, job coaching, and drug counseling are examples of communication skills often taught, with most of the time being used for lecture. The need to practice these skills is clear. So often role-plays are used, with students acting as role-players. Once again, e-learning can have an advantage. SIMmersion provides both the educational components and role-playing practice. The educational component is punctuated with examples and videos. It is designed so that each educational topic discussed is “stand-alone” so learners can jump to the topic of interest at any time. The skill-building component consists of virtual role-plays. During the practice sessions, the learner has a coach supporting everything they do. At any time, learners can return to the relevant e-learning component and easily find any needed information. The role-players behave differently during each practice session, providing learners a different opportunity to practice applying the concepts covered in the educational component. They can practice until the skills needed are mastered.
To summarize, e-learning has the advantage of being able to provide a timely and balanced mix of educational material and skill-building practice. Each component of the educational material should be digestible with one “swallow” and the practice component needs to exercise that educational material. Additionally, multiple feedback strategies should be incorporated to provide additional support during the exercise to help students who are struggling to apply the concepts.