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Is this a better approach to face-to-face learning?Learning 3348 views
With all the advances in online learning, why haven't we changed our approach to the face-to-face event?
We now have ways to easily deliver content, whether text, images, audio, video (or any combination) using massively scalable technologies.
Similarly, we can mix this with computer-marked activities and peer-to-peer communication and collaboration.
With all this, why do we still need the classroom / conference hall?
Doug Belshaw puts it very nicely when he says:
The face-to-face nature of conferences is, I believe, of even more importance in an extremely digitally connected world. Whilst it’s often the case that you can get to know people very well online, there’s something about embodied interaction that makes your knowledge of that person three-dimensional.
When you're completely engaged by a great performance (whether in speaking, sport or music), being there is often a better experience than watching it later. Although, as TED Talks show, even second-hand is far better than nothing!
However, most face-to-face learning experiences are not great performances. Most presentation style sessions, including my own, are distinctly mediocre when judged as performances, and, to be honest, not exactly memorable. Not really what you want when you're there to learn.
What we often forget, is that the best learning often happens when you try to explain things to other people, or ask questions, or exchange points of view. In fact, when you have conversations.
By provoking conversation, you are provoking the very thing that stimulates people to engage with the subject in question. If you have an expert in the room, that's even better. As they can ask the right questions, or feed in the right bits of information at just the right time.
That's great when you've got small groups, but how does that work as group sizes go up? This is an important consideration if you're looking at learning models that work financially.
One method is the Fishbowl technique. This is a method of dialogue that works for large groups, whilst allowing all to participate.
Alternatively, you can create a series of practical activities that learners will work through in groups. (This is the approach I'm going to take in next month's Elearning Network event: Getting started in elearning)
For longer face-to-face events, you'd use a mixture of different conversation techniques, with different sized groups, and different activities. But the thing to avoid is the presentation - unless of course you have an expert performer who can engage the audience.
To help any conversation-based session to work well, you need a number of elements in place:
- A skilled moderator or facilitator who will provide the right scaffolding for the conversation, set timings, pull together arguments (see: Online Tutoring article) and not feel the need to take over the conversation.
- A subject matter expert who will provide input to the scaffolding resources, and act as a sounding board and coach for learners (under the guidance of the facilitator)
- Conversation that is at the right level for the people in the room - ie. just beyond their comfort zone - inside their Zone of Proximal Development.
Remember, too, that your learner's experience of your workshop starts when they first see the advert, and finishes when they try the ideas out back at base. From start to finish, it's your responsibility as the organiser to make the workshop the most effective learning experience they can get. This may include setting expectations about pre-workshop activities (eg. watching a video, reading an article). Just like the best teacher you had at school, you'll need to be consistent on those expectations. People will soon learn that they'll get the most from their experience with you if they meet them.
It's all about making the best use of the environments (both online and face-to-face) you've got available to you.
Embedding learning in work
Reflections on Learning Technologies 2012
Breaking down the classroom walls
Conferences, presentations, streaming video and conversation
Ideas for an unconference process
Reflections on Learning Technologies 2010