ADVENTURES IN TEACHING: Getting Hooked as a Live, Online Trainer
by Jennie Ruby, CTT, COTP
As I write this, I am sitting at home looking out at a storm that has paralyzed commerce up and down the East Coast. I’m making no money. That is because an in-person class I had scheduled for today had to be cancelled. It was postponed until next year. Had I been scheduled for an online course, I would be working, and getting paid, today.
I’ve been in the training industry for more than 20 years, and at this point I am making most of my income by teaching online. When I have to go onsite to teach, I feel very put-upon: “You mean I have to get up before dawn? I have to get dressed in a suit? Drive in the hurricane or in the snow? On the BELTWAY???”
When I reflect upon it, I realize that these are strange words coming from an erstwhile hardened road warrior. I’ve taught all over this town (I’m in the Washington, DC, area) and all over this country (I’ve been to 47 of the 50 states!). But now I most often teach from the comfort of my home office.
No, I do NOT teach in my pajamas. C’mon! I know you were thinking that! Usually jeans and a nice shirt, if you must know. The nice shirt is just in case the webcam comes on by accident. (One must at least be minimally presentable, after all.)
So how did I first discover teaching online? To find the beginning of my online story, we have to go back almost to the turn of the century. No, not THAT century! The most recent turn of the century. Here is the story of how I became one of the early adopters of online teaching.
I was sitting in a manager’s office, because it was one of the few spaces offering some quiet in the busy classroom building. Participants in other classes were chatting in the hallway on their way to their morning break. I tested my headset to see whether that background noise was coming through.
“Can you hear the people talking in the hall?” I asked my online students.
“No, I don’t hear anything,” came the response.
“No” “No”—a string of no’s scrolled quickly in the chat window.
I was just beginning my first online class ever. It was the fall of 2001.
Now before you think you can guess what happened next, let me tell you that the horrendous events of 911 had already taken place. And plane travel in the United States was a very fraught topic right about then. I had already had a teaching gig in California cancel. And the flow of students who came in from all over the country to our onsite training center had all but dried up.
Can you hear me now?
So when the manager of a company where I was routinely teaching face-to-face classes asked me to look into this new concept of teaching online, I grabbed the chance.
I did some research. We mailed the usual classroom printed handouts to the scheduled attendees. And now I was in my first online classroom...
…when the fire alarm went off.
“I can hear that!” said one of my online students.
“Oh my gosh! I am going to have to evacuate the building,” I said. To think of not obeying the fire alarm was not possible—right about then, we were all taking our fire drills very seriously. Plus, the alarm was so loud it was nearly physically impossible to stay in the building.
So I told my students that if I wasn’t back in 20 to 30 minutes, they should hang up their phones and log out, and we would reschedule the class. I put the audio on mute, I took off my headphones, and I exited the building.
It did turn out to be just a drill, and when I got back inside, all of my students were still there! They had talked among themselves, they had made friends and become acquainted, and they had kept their headsets on and stayed logged in until I returned. The rest of the class went off without a hitch. (I have absolutely no recollection of what the class was about.)
But that first online class set the new direction for my career. Air travel returned, and that training company went back to business as usual in classroom training. But I was hooked... online!
Jennie Ruby, CTT, COTP, is a veteran eLearning developer, trainer, and author. Jennie has an M.A. from George Washington University and is a Certified Technical Trainer and Certified Online Training Professional. She teaches both classroom and online courses, and has authored courseware, published training books, and developed content for countless eLearning projects. She is also a publishing professional with more than 30 years of experience in writing, editing, print publishing, and eLearning.