Selecting Distance Learning Technologies

Example 1: Collaborative Training Environment

A new automated staff information system was recently purchased by a major corporation and needs to be implemented in six regional offices. Unfortunately, the staff is located throughout all the different offices and cannot meet at the same time or in the same location. As an instructional designer for the corporation, you have been charged with implementing a training workshop for these offices. As part of the training, you were advised how imperative it is that the staff members share information, in the form of screen captures and documents, and participate in ongoing collaboration.

Proposed Solution:

Implementing a training workshop at different times and in different locations is a challenge for the instructional designer, but it is not an insurmountable challenge. I base my proposed solution on the following assumptions:

  • The automated staff information system is a major implementation for this corporation.
  • Employees in all six regional offices need to be equally proficient in using the system.
  • It is imperative staff members learn skills for sharing information through screen captures and documents, and participate in ongoing collaboration.
  • The instructional designer, while it is not stated in the scenario, has completed a thorough assessment in the instructional design process and identified one or two persons in each regional office having the skills and motivation to function as a team leader/instructor during the implementation process.

Given the challenge, I propose the instructional designer utilize a distance learning technology known as web conferencing to deliver virtual live synchronous training sessions, first to the team leaders/instructors then later to the remainder of the staff, with the instructional designer flexing his/her work hours to accommodate training times convenient for each regional office. Advantages for using a web conferencing solution are: 1) Lower internet bandwidth requirements; 2) No need to purchase expensive communication equipment; 3) Reliable in remote geographic locations; and 4) Able to provide audio and video in the same connection (Hudson, Knight, & Collins, 2012). In addition, this format enables teacher-student and student-student interactions for exchanging information and providing a “shared feeling of presence” (Simonson, Smaldino, Albright, & Zvacek, 2012, p. 178) among each other. Likewise, the same web conferencing solution may be utilized after the initial training workshops to facilitate ongoing sharing of information and collaboration.

The most widely known web conferencing providers include Cisco WebEx, Citrix GoToMeeting, Adobe Connect, and MS LiveMeeting. If the corporation has a contract with one of these major providers, the instructional designer will need to use it. Free web conferencing solutions are available, though they may vary in available features, quality, and reliability. I am particularly impressed by Vyew, a web conferencing solution which offers an ad supported, free version forever with unlimited use for up to 10 people. Costs for adding up to 100 participants or an advertisement-free interface are very reasonable. Vyew does not require installations, is compatible with PC, Mac, Linux, PowerPoints, documents, images, videos, mp3’s, and flash files. Features of Vyew (View, 2013) which the instructional designer may utilize for this collaborative training environment are listed in this table.

Conferencing Features Collaboration Features Content Management Features
Live conferencing – synchronous Persistent collaboration – asynchronous anytime Flexible, PowerPoint-like authoring
Desktop sharing Public and private chat Broad, file-type support (including audio and video)
Change presenters Whiteboarding Native upload of documents
Screen capturing Hand raising, slow down, and other buttons Printing
Session recording Polling/quizzing
Support for up to 100 participants (first 10 are free) Plug-ins such as graphing calculator

Prior to the training workshops, the instructional designer needs to become an expert at using the web conferencing tool. He/she also needs to allocate time for one or more practice sessions and conducting at least one pilot session. For the team leader/instructor sessions, skills for using the web conferencing tool should be included in addition to topics specific to the automated staff information system. When conducting the training workshops for the remainder of staff, it is recommended the instructional designer and the designated team leaders/instructors for each of the regional offices teach the sessions together. The instructional plan must include strategies for teaching all staff how to use the web conferencing tool to share information, obtain screen captures, upload documents, and participate in ongoing collaboration. Considering the need for these additional skills, it is recommended the training be divided into multiple sessions, one for web conferencing skills, and one or more sessions for skills specific to the new automated staff information system. If necessary, wiki sites, a Web 2.0 technology, may be utilized for additional collaboration.

Web conferencing technologies are also used for other distance learning activities, including those in higher education and K-12 education. The Harvard Extension School (Harvard Extension School, 2013), a division of Harvard University, uses web conferencing for continuing education non-credit courses and part-time bachelor and master’s degree classes. Alaska’s Learning Network (Alaska’s Learning Network, 2013) makes education more accessible to students and teachers in remote locations or without advanced resources by using web conferencing and other distance learning technologies. It is a coalition of all school districts in Alaska, providing instruction to high school students, professional development for teachers, and free online resources, lessons, and online courses.

References:

Alaska’s Learning Network (2013, January 26). Making education more accessible. Retrieved from

http://www.aklearn.net/

Harvard Extension School (2013, January 26). Web conference course guidelines. Retrieved from

http://www.extension.harvard.edu/distance-education/how-distance-education-works/web-

conference-courses

Hudson, T. M., Knight, V., & Collins, B. C. (2012). Perceived effectiveness of web conferencing software

in the digital environment to deliver a graduate course in applied behavior analysis. Rural   

Special Education Quarterly, 31(2), 27-39. Retrieved from

http://ezp.waldenulibrary.org/login?url=http://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=

a9h&AN=77758137&scope=site

Simonson, M., Smaldino, S, Albright, M., & Zvacek, S. (2012). Teaching and learning at a distance

Foundations of distance education (5th ed.). Boston, MA: Pearson.

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