The ongoing COVID-19 pandemic is posing unique challenges for associations. With face-to-face meetings and training sessions no longer viable options in many areas, they’re looking for alternate ways to keep their members engaged and minimize revenue losses. This has many looking toward online learning as a solution.
But this can be easier said than done, especially for associations that are unfamiliar with or new to online learning. If you move in-person courses to a virtual environment, will they become less engaging? Do you have to sacrifice the interactive, personal elements? Where do you even start?
Keep reading to find answers to those questions and to get guidance on actions you can take to ease the change.
1. Bring key stakeholders together around the table.
As challenging as they can be, times of uncertainty can also provide valuable opportunities for various stakeholders within your association to align around the next steps. Key business units to include may be:
- Program management
Working together, you can define the direction your association wants to take and identify each stakeholder’s contributions during the transition.
2. Prioritize the tasks at hand.
Before you get too far down the road, ask yourself a handful of fundamental questions about the course (or courses) you plan to take online:
- What strategies worked in an in-class environment? What can you incorporate into your online course, and what can’t you incorporate?
- How many lessons or modules should your course be divided into? How long do you want learners to spend on each one?
- How much time will you spend moderating the course on a weekly basis?
Taking a step back and considering factors like these will help ensure that when you’re ready to start setting up your course, you’re heading in a good direction.
3. Establish clear learning objectives for members.
Learning objectives also serve an important function by making it clear to people what they can expect to get out of the course. When reflecting on this, think about the following:
- What will the learners be doing?
- How will they be assessed?
- What new skills or competencies should they have obtained upon course completion?
Going through this exercise as an instructor makes it easier for you to set learning objectives and outcomes, and for learners it gives an understanding of what success looks like.
4. Incorporate the right amount of information.
One of the biggest hurdles people come up against when setting up an online course can be adapting the content. You don’t want to have so much that it overwhelms the learner, nor do you want to leave out critical information or context by including too little.
Here are some insights:
- Don’t rely on your resources to do the talking for you. They should only help enhance and support the learning you want to convey, as they would in an in-class setting.
- Limit your use of bulleted lists. In a face-to-face environment, you’d be able to use your bullet points as a jumping-off spot to add context and fully develop the ideas and concepts underpinning them. You need to make sure that same depth of information translates to your online course.
- Avoid redundancy. Offer a variety of examples to reinforce an idea or argument, but since learners can reread and rewatch any material they’ve already seen, make sure you’re not repeating yourself too much.
- Make instructions clear. The more detailed and explicit you can make them, the less likely it will be that learners have to follow up for clarity.
- Be conscious of your tone. As a general rule of thumb, the most engaging courses are those that read more like a well-thought-out conversation and less like an excerpt from a textbook.
Ultimately, it’s about pausing to consider what your most important points are, how they are tied into the learning objectives, and whether you can expand on them in a clear and conversational tone.
5. Leverage third-party content to bolster your courses.
Especially when you need to move quickly, building or adding to courses by curating existing, off-the-shelf materials can be an incredibly valuable strategy. As you’re assessing your options, consider questions like:
- How will you be using it? Do you need a complete course, or do you want to supplement one of your own?
- How long does the content need to be?
- What niche does it need to fill (technical training, soft skills, compliance, etc.)?
- Are there any specific content types it should include (videos, quizzes, etc.)?
6. Find ways to make learning engaging for members.
One of the biggest concerns people have is that learning online will be less engaging. Fortunately, there are steps you can take to counteract that:
- Use discussion boards and feedback tools to encourage learners to collaborate with one another.
- Leverage game-based learning tactics such as awards, badges, and leaderboards to nurture healthy competition and growth.
- Cater to different learning styles by presenting information and encouraging learners to share via text, video, or audio formats.
- Create personalized learning paths tailored to meet the needs of individual learners.
During this health crisis, expertise is close at hand.
As cases of COVID-19 continue to spread globally, we appreciate and understand that this is a scary and uncertain time, and want you to know we’re here to support you as you move toward creating a “new normal” for continuing education in the months ahead.