Distance Learning Design, Part 2

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Once you have clarified your goals and assessed what you need in order to pursue the correct distance learning model, it’s time to get down to brass tacks and choose what you’re going to teach and discover what needs to be included to manage training in the most efficient way possible. 

Decide What to Teach

We meet a surprising number of firms with inefficient or redundant curriculum, that, for example: 

  • Require the staff to complete the exact same module from previous years
  • Include content that participants feel is “dumbed down” or otherwise not relevant to their jobs now. 

Migrating in-person training to distance learning is a big task. Make that task easier and your training more efficient by paring down to the essentials. Yes, CPE standards require 40 hours of CPE in a given year, but these are exceptional times. 

Better to deliver 20 hours of high-quality learning that improves skills and prepares the staff for what lies ahead rather than 40 hours of time that meets continuing education compliance requirements but offers little else. Invest in quality first. The compliance problem is easier to solve and can be placed on the back burner. 

If distance learning is not a series of webcasts, then what is it? 

What we have found produces the best learning outcomes is a design that combines curated content that participants complete on their own with learning activities they complete in cohorts. A typical agenda may look something like this:

  • Monday: Participants read their assignments, which include a reading, a YouTube video (or a short, firm-specific webcast) and submit answers to discussion questions to a facilitator. The facilitator provides individualized feedback to the participants as necessary. 
  • Mid-Week: Participants work remotely in small groups to discuss a case study or work collectively on a learning activity. 
  • End-of-Week: The facilitator leads an online discussion with the entire class about the assignment and provides a debriefing on the case study. The facilitator then provides participants with their assignments for the next week. 

Firms decide how much time the staff should spend on their weekly learning activities. The course can be spread out over several weeks to meet the the stated learning objectives. 

This type of design has many advantages over a simple migration of courses, including: 

  • Active learning built around case studies that can approximate situations the participants are likely to encounter on the job.
  • Facilitator interaction and team collaboration that drives accountability and improves learning effectiveness. 
  • Limited need for content development. Designers and SMEs function primarily as content curators, not developers. 
  • Except for the required debriefing at week’s end, participants have the flexibility to complete the assignments on their own schedule. 

Meet the Challenge

Without question, delivering staff training through distance learning will be difficult. You won’t get it perfect, but you can make it very good. Firms have time. Money not spent on live seminar training can be repurposed to create distance learning. Resources do exist. 

MRA Learning doesn’t have all of the answers, but we would welcome the chance to participate in the dialogue. Feel free to post questions for us on LinkedIn, or submit one directly to me at mramos@mralearning.com. There is great satisfaction in conquering a difficult challenge, and that is the current opportunity before all of us. Let’s make the most of it and rise to the challenge.


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