4 Practical Ways To Improve Your Online Courses And Training

Online education comes with many benefits, but one of the greatest objections to e-courses and employee training is "but what about the practical training?"

Photo: Sarah Cordiner, CEO of MainTraining; Source: Courtesy Photo
Photo: Sarah Cordiner, CEO of MainTraining; Source: Courtesy Photo

Online education comes with many benefits, but one of the greatest objections it faces when it comes to creating e-courses for clients or employee training is “but what about the practical training?”

One of the ways that adults learn best, is through direct experience; therefore, their training and learning interventions must include active and practical participation. While in traditional face-to-face training practical activities are easy to wrap our heads around, it is a slightly more challenging prospect in online education.

In this article, Sarah Cordiner, educator and e-learning strategist will share how you can facilitate practical engagement in a virtual classroom.


The need for involved learning

There is no learning quite like just doing it. Allowing learners to “have a go” in a situation as close to real-life as possible will enhance the learning experience considerably. We retain more information when we physically practice it, instead of just see or hear about it.

When it comes to traditional face-to-face training, this principle is easy to grasp and execute. But what about when we are delivering our training as an online course? How can you ensure that you are meeting the learn-by-doing principle of adult learning in an environment where we are not physically present to run practical exercises in person?

Here are 4 ways to teach a practical skill in online training.


1. Get as visual as possible

When it comes to practical training, or teaching new skills, the more visual and “live demo” you can make your course, the better. People learn in many different ways – visual, auditory and kinaesthetic (i.e. carrying out physical activities).


Photo: © StockRocket, YFS Magazine

By delivering information online, you have to ensure different type of learners can engage with your teaching. Providing visual diagrams, animations and dot-pointing your information can all help. Also, a video showing a real life demonstration of the skill in a situation or environment that is relevant can improve online learning.

Think of the typical cooking show, where the camera gets in close to the meal preparation step-by-step. When the brain can see how something is done before it is attempted independently, the chance of success are much higher than reading or hearing about it.


2. Get on camera

Physically get yourself, your trainers or your subject matter experts on camera. People like people, and it can significantly enhance engagement, retention and completion rates of your online course if your learners can see who is talking to them. We call this the ‘talking head’ video in the e-learning industry.


Photo: © innervisionpro, YFS Magazine

Your course doesn’t have to be all talking head if you go for this method. Hand demo’s, voice over video and even animation videos can work great – as long as the content clearly demonstrates what needs to be done in stages and is highly contextualized to the actual working environment of the learner.

Your e-learning developers and film crew should ensure that each process is suitably staged for easier acquisition of learning, visual engagement and later upgrading purposes. Even if you don’t currently have the budget for professionally filmed online courses and training videos, a high definition video camera is perfectly adequate in the interim. Any video is better than a PDF!

A good “how to” video also enables people to engage in a visual, auditory and a kinesthetic manner, by watching, listening and following along as the training video plays.


3. Screencast

Screencasting is when you use a piece of software to film or record your own computer screen live, with the sound of the trainer’s voice narrating.

Screencasts are great if you’re showing people how to fill in a form, use a company system, or anything else that is done or can be demonstrated on a computer. Screencasting also allows you to speak over PowerPoint slides, with or without your webcam recording you at the same time.


Photo: © ArtFamily; YFS Magazine

This is great when recorded since online learners can follow along at their own pace, rewind any stages they would like repeated and not feel like they are too far ahead or behind – all common problems when traditional on-screen training is provided in groups.

There are different kinds of software you can use for screencasting. I personally use Camstasia Studio. If you’re worried about technology, don’t be. The big red ‘Record Screen’ button is pretty easy to find! Camtasia has a suite of free training when you purchase the product, and YouTube is full of demo videos too.

While video generally enables you to engage, screen casting has the added element to show learners what to do as you go along with them, as you explain and illustrate each step.


4. Use the ‘DEDICT’ method

When teaching a new skill, either in person or online, the DEDICT Method is a great step–by–step principle to follow. It will make your online training engaging and impactful.

Here’s what to do:


  • D: Demonstrate the task at normal speed (on camera or screen cast). This helps the learners get a clear idea of what it is they are trying to achieve, the end result, outcome, and ultimately what they will learn.

  • E: Explain what you did step-by-step. Now they have seen the skills performed in real-time, break it down into steps, explaining each step. Use talking head, animations, frozen images and diagrams at this stage.

  • D: Demonstrate again, but this time slowly. With less in–depth explanation than the last step, now repeat the skill slowly, again demonstrating in full on camera.

  • I: Imitate Get viewers to have a go. Encourage them to follow along, do an activity, and share their results. If they can’t do this from their own environment due to resources, equipment and safety, then see if you can created a blended learning approach. Start with virtual reality, augmented reality, or a simulation. You’ll be amazed how cost-effective and easy it is to get VR into the hands of your learners these days – an iPhone, an app and a pair of cardboard glasses will do it. You can also get them to upload videos of themselves completing tasks. Most people have smartphones these days so this is no longer a barrier to e-learning.

  • C: Coach Give feedback, advice, scenarios where this would apply, or different scenarios with an alternative way of executing the skill. Online learning platforms now have many ways to communicate with and create social learning environments for online learners. It is easy to embed discussions areas, polls, and share video, audio or written feedback with learners on their work.

  • T: Test them. Give them a practical challenge, quiz, assessment or activity. Again, its now extremely simple for online learners to upload videos, photos and documents to their learning portal in away that documents it as evidence for assessment for accredited or non-accredited training. You can also directly create quizzes, tests, exams and polls inside the learning platform too.


Final thoughts

Although by no means exhaustive, implementing these simple practical online teaching principles and methods into your online training are guaranteed to enhance the learning experience. They bring in the learn–by–doing principle of adult learning that is critical to any effective adult learning program.


This article has been edited.

A three-time international number one best-selling author, TV host, Podcaster, qualified educator and professional speaker.’ Huffington Posts’ ‘Top 50 Must-Follow Female Entrepreneur for 2017’. 11 years in business & education, over 7,000 students in 130 countries and multiple awards – Sarah Cordiner combines education and entrepreneurship as the EDUpreneur’s internationally acclaimed leader in ‘profitably educating your marketplace’. If you would like, qualified educator and e-learning strategist, Sarah Cordiner to help you transition your course or employee training into online learning, contact her today. Connect with @CordinerSarah on Twitter.


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