Analyst says online training is one time you shouldn't go by the book

Analyst says online training is one time you shouldn't go by the book

Probably the most attractive feature of online training is its efficiency. Students can take courses at work or at home, during business hours or at 3 a.m. A student in Korea can get the same instruction as one in Kansas City. And the time and money saved on travel quickly surpasses the costs of implementing an electronic curriculum.

But agencies should be careful not to confuse efficiency with effectiveness, said Leslye McDade-Morrison, who recently surveyed educators and training officials within the Defense Department.

The most effective online training goes beyond textbook presentations to programs that simulate the workplace, she said. A lot of online courses fail to meet that criterion.

'Many Web courses have Hypertext Markup Language text,' McDade-Morrison said. 'That's not a course, that's a Web site.'

McDade-Morrison, an education program analyst with the Office of the DOD Chancellor for Education and Professional Development, surveyed 271 military and civilian officials in the department. She spoke recently at an electronic learning conference in Washington.

Among her conclusions: Text-heavy courses that conclude with multiple-choice tests are the least expensive, the easiest to administer and the most common. They also are the least effective.

'How many of you have multiple-choice questions on your jobs?' she said, contending that such courses promote short-term memorization but fail to teach job skills. 'They're easy to give, easy to grade, are efficient'but not effective. You might as well just give them a book. It's cheaper and easier.'

An optimal online course 'should reflect the complexity of the job you do,' McDade-Morrison said.
She recommended that course designers start at the end, by defining what they want a student to know or be able to do, and build a course based on real-world experiences.

Effective online courses do exist. McDade-Morrison said some Defense programs, for example, make good use of simulation software, video and practical scenarios.

In an earlier session at the same conference, Col. Christopher Olson of the Total Army Distance Learning Program at Fort Monroe, Va., gave a brief demonstration of the Armor Captain's Career Course for Reserve tank commanders.

The course uses interactive multimedia, including 3-D simulations, as it progresses through three levels of training, from basic-skills lessons users can take at their convenience and synchronous weekend classes to resident training that uses virtual sessions.

McDade-Morrison said courses that simulate a job are more expensive and difficult to distribute'they often will require CD distribution until broadband access is more widespread.

But she said choosing the least expensive online training would likely result in having to offer retraining down the road. 'You can pay now, or you can pay later,' she said.

'Kevin McCaney

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