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Online Learning On-the-Job


By Melissa Venable

Online learning is not just growing in popularity in higher education. It is also gaining ground in workplace training. The skills that you develop as an online student –technology skills, learning habits, collaboration methods and communication techniques – will likely be used again in an employment situation. Learning continues in both formal and informal ways as we progress through our careers.

Workplace training professionals are using online learning techniques to foster learning on-the-job and provide employees with the training they need to excel in their positions. In this post, I'll review some of the technologies and techniques that are being used in workplace environments.

Online Learning in the Workplace

Learning in general can be described as either formal or informal in nature. Formal learning is associated with structured systems, such as an academic course or workshop series. Informal learning takes place through everyday experiences that may or may not happen with learning in mind. Examples include conversations with co-workers, reading trade publications and websites, and completing assigned projects and tasks. Both informal and formal learning take place in the work environment, and can happen via online delivery.

  • Formal – Face-to-face events, such as new employee orientations, have been a staple in workplace training for decades. Employers are now finding ways to deliver these programs online through live virtual conference sessions where employees meet via the Internet for a presentation or group discussion. These events can also be easily recorded for review later on. Online delivery of formal training can be more cost effective for a business owner than having attendees travel to one location.
  • Informal – Informal learning takes place throughout our work environments primarily through experience gained actually completing work projects and interactions we have along the way with our co-workers. Workplace training experts are finding ways to harness the impact of this kind of learning by creating avenues for employees to share information and experiences with each other online in social networks.

Presentations and Interactions

Online workplace training can take many forms and is used for a variety of purposes. Two of the most basic uses are to make presentations available to a large audience and to encourage practice with tasks through interactive multimedia. These uses focus on individual learners working independently to learn new concepts and skills. You have probably experienced recorded lectures and practice exercises in your courses. To view an example of an online training presentation, take a look at this aircraft orientation presentation for pilots or this sales training presentation for marketing personnel created by different companies. Interactions usually include multiple features and functions such as simulations and quizzes with feedback for right and wrong answers. Explore this example of a computer set-up interaction from SuddenlySmart. The user gets to practice working with a laptop and cables through a simulation exercise. 

Social Learning and Social Media

Bandura's Social Learning Theory can be applied to workplace learning to addresses how behaviors change as a result of both watching how others perform work tasks and interacting with these more experienced employees in a real-world setting beyond the classroom. The workplace itself becomes a powerful learning environment with both formal and informal components. 

Social media and networking tools allow for the creation of online group "spaces" to allow for the exchange of information among co-workers. Systems such as Ning can be used to create learning communities within a company with discussion boards, blogs, and other communication functions. Wikis are also gaining popularity as a shared workspace. Take a look at this list of corporate wikis and review some of the examples of how they are used and the benefits that are described. 

Online Learning Skills

If you are already an online student, many of the ideas listed above may seem familiar. In your online classes you are probably using discussion boards, blogs, wikis, and other tools to interact with the course content, your instructors, and your classmates. The skills you are developing in this process can transfer to your work environment.

  • Technology Skills – As you progress through your online program, you find yourself gaining skills with both software and hardware systems. The more comfortable you become with different types of technology and with online interaction, the more confident you'll be with online learning opportunities both in school and on-the-job.
  • Learning Habits – The qualities that make you a successful online student can help you make the transition to online training. These qualities and skills include: self-discipline and motivation, time management, organization, and ability to work independently.
  • Collaboration Methods –In the context of workplace learning, collaboration is an effort to exchange information and knowledge and create new ideas and understanding as a team. In your online courses, you use a variety of methods to work with your classmates in pairs or small groups to discuss assigned topics and complete projects.
  • Communication Techniques – Success in your online courses depends on your ability to communicate using both asynchronous and synchronous communication techniques. Your student experience with email, discussion boards, recorded presentations, videoconferencing, and virtual classrooms will prepare you for the use of these same tools in workplace communication and training.

From Online Student to Online Employee

Have you considered working online? Telecommuting is increasingly becoming an option with employers in their efforts to cut costs and improve productivity. Workshifting.com explains the many forms and definitions of telecommuting and informs us that approximately 2.5 million people work for their employers from home. Once you add reports of those who are self-employed, run small home businesses, and work from home periodically, the number of telecommuters may be as high as 45 million.

The skills you've developed as an online student – technology, learning habits, collaboration, and communication – are similar to the skills that employers are looking for when they are considering telecommuting positions. You may be able to market these specific skills, in addition to your career field expertise, when applying for these types of jobs.

Preparation for the Future

Recent predictions by leaders in workplace elearning include more networked opportunities, using available technologies and information to create our own professional development opportunities in informal ways. Think about how you might expand your Personal Learning Network to include expertise related to your work throughout your career. 

As you complete your online coursework, consider how you are not only learning skills and information in your field of study, but also developing important competencies related to the process of learning online. The process of learning does not end at graduation. These skills and competencies will transition with you to your current and future work settings. Continue your focus on improving your skills and abilities, with formal and informal methods, as you move forward with your career.

May 24th, 2011 written by (learn more about our authors)

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