I started teaching online a dozen years ago and I owe it all to a case of the flu. I recall that I awoke in a nameless hotel, in a nameless city somewhere in parts unknown. I was supposed to teach something to someone but I couldn’t wrap my thoughts around the specifics. All that I did know was that I was sicker than I had ever been before or since. This wasn't just the flu... it was Mr. Flu.
I called home to consult Dr. Wife who was gracious to confirm my diagnosis (she’s that good) and was kind enough to remind me where I was, where I was supposed to go, and what I was supposed to be teaching. Because I was under contract, I went to the client site and taught the class as expected. (I did disclose my illness to the client and suggest we could reschedule; however, people had flown in from all over and there was no way to put the class off.)
The class went fine, thanks for asking. But travelling while sick is the worst (I’m sure I don’t have to tell you that if you have prior experience). I told Dr. Wife that I never wanted to travel again… EVER! Of course, the problem with that pronouncement is that I’m a trainer... avoiding travel is impossible. Or is it?
Back in my day, the technology available to teach online was limited to short, boring webinars. There simply wasn’t fast enough Internet, affordable software or hardware, or enough bandwidth to host anything but lecture-based webinars. Nevertheless, using an early version of GoToMeeting, I advertised a few online classes and quickly got enrollments.
Over the years, I’ve perfected my online teaching style and now teach others how to successfully teach online. And while training classes online has extended my career (I was truly headed for retirement before discovering how great teaching live, online classes can be), I must be honest and say teaching online is not always awesome. Just today, for instance, I was preparing to teach a custom TechSmith Camtasia class. I was greeting my students as always and then, two minutes before the official start time, my router decides to take the morning off. Luckily, I have backup Internet (backup plans are something we discuss in the trainer certification class) and started the class on time. However, the stress of the moment got me thinking about the main pros and cons of teaching online.
Online spaces are inexpensive: Prices range from free to a few hundred dollars per month depending on the size of your online room (our rooms can hold 200 people) and features (our vendor offers eCommerce and full back office support for the learner registration process).
No travel for anyone: Talk about a commute buster! With online classes, nobody needs to travel. Teach or attend classes from home... in your slippers. All that you need to teach or attend an online class is a computer (or perhaps a tablet), and good, reliable Internet access.
Global reach: We have students attend our class from all over the world. In one Adobe Captivate class I had a group of 15 attendees. Ten of the students were from across the U.S. and the others were from the UK, Australia, Belgium, Japan, and India.
Less intimidation = better Q&A: This one surprised me. Given that the students are not in the same physical space, I’ve found that I get more questions and more attendee engagement than in onsite classes. It’s rare when I ask my classes “are there any questions?” that I hear crickets. I’m thinking the main reason is that online students are more relaxed and don’t feel the glare from another student who either doesn’t like the question or thinks that it is silly.
Technology can let you down: Did I mention that my router went down just before my latest class start time? That’s just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to things that can, and will, go wrong. The best thing you can do when technology fails you is to have a backup plan. (Again, that’s something we cover in detail during the certification class.)
1 Ticket=1 Seat? How do you know if only the people who paid for the class are in the class? If you find that someone has invited all their friends and colleagues to attend the class for free, what is your game plan? Do you confront the student or let it go?
The unprepared participant: You can tell your attendees exactly what they need to do prior to class a million different ways. However, a small percentage of your students will arrive to class late, without the software, or without the support materials. You name it, I’ve seen it. Prepare to have your class schedule seriously hindered by an unprepared participant.
There’s my short list of online training pros and cons. I’d be curious if you have your own list of pros and cons to share. If so, please share them as comments below… but please keep Mr. Flu to yourself.
Kevin Siegel, CTT, COTP, is the founder and president of IconLogic. Following a career in Public Affairs with the US Coast Guard and in private industry, Kevin has spent decades as a technical communicator, classroom and online trainer, public speaker, and has written hundreds of computer training books for adult learners. He has been recognized by Adobe as one of the top trainers world-wide.