Distance Learning Design, Part 1

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For the past few years, MRA Learning has created customized distance learning events for a variety of businesses and accounting firms. Based on our experiences, here are some recommendations for the firms that are exploring high-quality distance learning options for previously scheduled in-person training. 

Clarify Goals Before Imagining a Solution

When unexpected circumstances force firms to create a distance learning option, the instinct for many of our clients has been to simply migrate their existing in-person seminars to a webcast. These events are recorded and made available for viewing by those who could not participate in the live event. Let’s be honest. By participate, we mean “have the webcast play in the background while the erstwhile participant multitasks.” 

Webcasts can certainly be effective delivery options for certain types of training, but they are not well-suited for replacing a live seminar that lasts several hours or even days. 

Before deciding on a definitive course of action, firm leaders should first come to an agreement about what they want to achieve. “Getting people their 40 hours,” is not the space where we live but may be the best business strategy for some firms. 

Determining the firm’s training goals in these extraordinary times is up to firm leaders. Our only advice is to have the discussion and make a clear decision about what you really want to achieve in the current year. 

If a firm’s goal is to create effective learning events that achieve meaningful learning objectives, then they must think beyond ordinary webcasts. This will require firm leaders to: 

  • Retain an open mind about what distance learning looks like 
  • Work with learning managers to start their curriculum plans – not with last year’s training but with a blank sheet of paper. 

Consider Your Audience

Effective course design must always take into account both the needs of the learners and their specific constraints. In the current circumstances, learner constrains will have a considerable impact on your design. 

Much of your staff will be challenged by working at home. Their working conditions may not be conducive to prolonged engagement in learning courses for reasons such as physical workspace limitations or the presence of school-age children. Lines between work and home and client and training will blur. Some staff members may be “sheltered in place.” 

Most, if not all of them, will be affected by a close friend or family member catching the disease. Even in the best of times, your staff may have negative impressions of distance learning, which may predispose them to disengage from the learning experience. 

To be effective, your learning plan should consider the unusual circumstances of the learner. Talk to your staff and make it a priority to better understand their current circumstances and set achievable goals for what can be accomplished in a learning event. 

Their situation will change dramatically over the next several months, so continue to have those discussions to stay informed. Learning can evolve over time based on changing circumstances. 


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