To start off simple, let's say that a training (learning) process can be in-class, blended or e-learning based.
Some people might automatically assume that it means the in-class setting does not include the usage of technology at all then. To all of those lecturers, teachers and professors, who sit behind their desks quietly reading from a piece of paper as a presentation, the assumption above is not true. For the most part all learning processes can and should include some kind of technology. Why, you ask? Because it has great benefits for the learners.
First of all IT literacy is a must for most positions, and for a functional life as well. Just think about all the machines, ATM-s you have to use to get through your day, not mentioning the only way you can submit some applications or forms is via email. You have practically no choice. Those people who haven’t caught up with using a computer and internet are falling behind more and more each day. Second of my reasons is to include technology, is because why would you choose to not take full advantage of these great inventions? If you use them well and position them right they can add great value to your learning process. Let’s see some examples!
In-class: No matter what your topic is, even if you choose to/or have to work with a frontal setting, you can always accompany your presentation with some videos, power point slides, pictures. When I used to deliver Public Speaking training sessions, where we mostly did simulations and role-plays, I always made sure to show some good and bad public speaking examples via some youtube videos. It was an in-class skill improvement training, and yet showing my trainees real life examples of speeches gave me great ground to talk about do-s and don’t-s of the genre. At some point I was a part of an immigrant integration training program as an instructor, where the learners were far from tech-savvy, so to encourage them to get their feet wet I gave them simple, often funny online research related essay-writing tasks, and of course made sure they had access to a library, where they could use computers. It was a great way of incorporating a splash of technology while the course remained an instructor-led in-class process.
Blended learning: My personal favorite, the best of both worlds. If you decide to read up on its history, you will find that the term has, and still does cause confusion about what we should call blended learning. There might be someone out there, who would call my entire first example blended learning. Anyhow, based on my studies and experience, I choose to define blended-learning as a learning process where there is an independent and/or synchronous online activity, plus scheduled classroom time and/or available consultations. The options and opportunities are endless with the mixture of these models. You can have the majority of the curriculum delivered classroom, and have just some complementary modules served on an online platform, you can have almost the whole course delivered via synchronous/asynchronous online learning, and offer some consultations and classroom time as a debriefing & summarizing element, or anything in between.
But if you decide on blended learning, you have to have the proper technological background for it. A user-friendly, well-established online platform with built in options for interactive communication needs a lot of maintaining, and of course you need to learn to use it, e.g. how to create content, tasks, and monitor & evaluate performances. It is quite the adventure. For me, it was an extremely exciting experience. If the online part is the minority of your course, you can try to pull it off with something like a wordpress-based blog-website that has great applications you can purchase. You can add videos, online quizzes, daily news letters, even more complex problems to solve as group activities. You can group participants and have them work on the same document (via google docs or sharepoint) that you have access to.
E-learning: E-learning processes solely rely on technology. They can have synchronous and asynchronous parts, and they should definitely include active communication between participants (as collaboration), and teachers. It can use everything that blended learning uses except for face-to-face consultation or classroom time. They normally work with webinars, life-chat sessions, online reading, case study analysis, essay writing, quizzes and many more tools.
E-learning also gives way more responsibility to the learners themselves. The process needs to be strongly self-guided, and if you want to succeed you need a strong will and motivation, because nobody will check your homework the next day. The lack of personal touch can cost the learners, but it also teaches them to be more resourceful, initiative and independent.
One of my favorite experience came from an online course I took on coursera (Fantastic site, you should check it out!), where after a webinar the professor asked the participants to record their own version of a task, write an essay about their experience, and upload both. The results were available to watch and be discussed by each of us on the online platform. In this case it was hundreds, maybe thousands of us participating, which would have made it impossible for the teachers to give everyone feedback, therefore the creators of the course used the participants themselves. Imagine how much you can learn from the insights and opinions of people from all over the world! This course also used interactive video learning, which means there are planted stops in the recording, where you have to answer a question, or perform a task and share the result before you can continue. It’s also important to motivate e-learning participants to practice what they learn in real life, which can be encouraged by instructed games and simulations. These are the technological solutions that make web-based learning truly reciprocal, and also promote collaboration between peers, that might not happen otherwise.
I firmly believe that every learning process can and should use technology, as I mentioned earlier. I also believe that relying on solely e-learning takes out a very valuable part of a learning process. That’s also the reason why I don’t agree with those anticipating that online learning will cause the death of face-to-face learning. As an educator I might be biased, but I think that no amount of skyping, ‘webinaring’ or life chatting can take the place of a face-to-face consultation. You can deliver many things on an online platform, and you should definitely take advantage of all the amazing possibilities, (they can work wonderfully) but I think learners will always benefit from at least a few hours of personal development with a human-teacher physically on their side, and also from learning alongside their peers in a class. From where I’m looking at it’s the question of you finding the right balance for the specific learning process you are designing.