Some thoughts on online training courses.

I don't know how it is where you are, but my summer "break" (such as it is) is rapidly winding down. Among other things, it means that I spent a few hours today in front of my computer completing online training courses.

I find myself of two minds (at least) on these courses.

On the one hand, many of these courses do a reasonable (or even excellent) job of conveying important information -- broken down into modules that convey reasonably sized bites of content, enhanced with videos, case studies, and links to further information which one might bookmark for future reference. Indeed, the online training courses themselves can be accessed as a source of information later on, when one needs it.

It's hard to beat the convenience of the online delivery of these courses. You start them when you're ready to take them, and you can do a few modules of a course at a time, or pound through them all in one sitting. You don't need to show up to a particular place for a particular interval of time, you don't need to find a parking space, you don't even need to change out of your pajamas.

Plus, many of these online training courses simplify record-keeping for whomever is responsible for ensuring that the folks who are supposed to take the course have actually taken it (and performed to the specified level on the accompanying quizzes) by emailing the completion reports to the designated official.

On the other hand ... if you're pounding through a 26-module course in one sitting (as I did today), you have to wonder a little about retention. Passing a quiz on a module immediately after you've read through that module may be do-able, but I'm less certain that it would be as easy to pass a month later. Indeed, if there had been a single big quiz after the 26 modules (rather than a quiz on each module that you take immediately after the module), I'm not sure I would have scored as well.

I imagine, too, that this mode of training is not necessarily beloved by people who have not made their peace with multiple choice tests. As well, for people who need to discuss material in order to understand it, the online delivery of modules may be a lot less effective than a live training with other participants.

What have your experiences with online training courses been? To you find them an adequate tool for the job, a poor fit for your learning style, or a big old waste of time?

6 responses so far

  • Autistic Lurker says:

    I haven't tried online delivery but it seem to me that it would be a better choice for me because I can't focus while in-class and thus, I don't tend to ask many (or any) questions.

    There is two universities in the province delivering remote courses (some online, some even on dvd or similar material) and it is possible to do entire bachelors with them but there aren't too many choices (management, general science and general arts for the first as well as computer science and multidisciplines for the second).


  • Schwa says:

    I took a series of radiation safety modules, and came away with no knowledge other than:

    What I remember from undergrad physics
    Don't spill radioactive material
    If there is a spill, go get Mike since he's on the Radiation Safety Committee
    When the inspection officers come, slip out the fire escape and get a sandwich or something.

    A lot of it is pretty common sense, like "only put things which will decay in a few weeks into the decay trash" and "stop the spread of radioactive spills if you can do it without getting covered in goo" and "don't swallow the polonium", but the details of how many Curies of radiation makes a spill major and whether we call the health office before or after covering the spill or evacuating the floor or whatever really escape me. I prefer fluorescence and chemiluminescence anyway.

  • Laura says:

    I tried to work my way through an MIT online course, which admittedly is not as complete as an online course that one has paid for. The lectures were engaging. The readings were available as were the assignments. What was missing were the discussion sections and that's where I could have solidified my learning. Instead, I got frustrated early on. They'd obviously explained some details during those discussion sections that I needed. Sigh.

    I'll say that some online training I've done that covered software weren't too bad. They gave me a foundation so that I could start exploring on my own.

  • Joseph says:

    I've been an EMT for seven years, and an RN for one now, and I've taken several kinds of online courses for schooling, job training and continuing education. The biggest difficulty I've had with the well-done courses is that they only seem to test retention. The *really* well-done courses test application of knowledge, but those are few and far-between. I have yet to take an online test (that wasn't an NCLEX prep) which forced me to think about what I learned to come up with an answer I wasn't told. That, to me, is the true test of understanding. I still use them for the convenience, but I often end up copy-pasting the material in which I'm interested so that I may *learn* it later.

  • Pascale says:

    Most of my online training has been for maintenance stuff- hospital and lab safety, billing and coding updates, human subjects protection, etc. By the third time through you can usually go straight to the test.
    It's a bad way to learn something that you really need to *KNOW* but a great way to certify what people have been told and when.

  • I took a class in informatics that had 2 live meetings and 8 on-line. It worked pretty well, actually. My complaint was the turn-around on assignments. Just like in a 'real' class we turned in problems after each lecture. In a live class you'd expect to get feedback on the assignment the next week, and you'd learn from that before the next lecture.
    Doing it on-line, there was the urge to blast through all the lectures and not wait for the assignments to get graded.

    I've given on-line classes by web, but in that case it's a live lecture and we're just trying to save travel costs for everybody. This works ok because you can have the interactive give-and-take of a real class (provided that everybody's phones are working well).

    Bottom line for me: there's great possibility in these, they are very expedient, but as of today nothing beats the real thing.