[Video] Online Learning Made Simple: How Experts Do It

Online learning lends itself to a more intimate, unique, and personalized learning experience. Teachers and students are allowed to see each other in a more human, connected environment when teaching is done virtually. Human connection and personalization doesn't have to be lost when teaching and learning is done through a computer screen.

Hear from Credly CEO Jonathan Finkelstein, Credly's Chief Success Strategist Dr. Susan Manning, and Dan Balzer, Global Capabilities Manager at BP as they have a roundtable discussion about how to conduct online learning programs that are impactful and meaningful to your audience. The value to bringing people together in real-time causes learners and teachers to evaluate communication that evokes change and deliberate conversation. 

If you're interested in learning how to validate learning when teaching online, read more about how Credly helps organization's turn teaching into verified skills. 

Online Learning Made Simple_ How Experts Do It

Susan:
Hello, and welcome to a special edition of the Credly podcasts. Today you are going to be invited to eavesdrop on a conversation between three old friends. Friend number one is the author of Learning in Real Time, Synchronous Teaching and Learning Online. At the time this book was published, 2006, that friend was the founder and CEO of a company that helped other organizations produce high quality, live events online. Whether that was a meeting, a webinar, an entirely online conference. Today, you know him as the CEO of Credly, Jonathan Finkelstein.

Susan:
Friend number two introduced me to Jonathan, as we both worked in higher education together. This friend today is the global capabilities manager at British Petroleum, but he and I produced a podcast for five years discussing the intersection between learning and technology, and his name is Dan Balzer. Then there is me. Before I came exclusively to Digital Credentials, I had a career as an instructional designer and an online instructor. In 2010, I was asked to co-author Online Education for Dummies with my friend, Kevin Johnson. That book was really written for the learner, since so many colleges and universities were moving instruction online and learners weren't sure what to do.

Susan:
Today's conversation is going to be about making the shift to delivering, designing and then delivering online events or learning, whether that means your web conference meetings, your training that you're offering through your association or an online course because the world has changed dramatically in very short order. As Jonathan and I talk about what's still relevant for online instruction, Dan is going to help us unpack these ideas

Susan:
Thanks for joining me Dan and Jonathan. We are going to launch into this conversation. Before we do though, I have to backtrack a little bit from my opener and clarify that the organization or the company that I referenced with my introduction with Jonathan was Learning Times, and I also spelled out the whole name of the company that Dan works for. We just know it as BP, and Dan said he wanted superimposed over his image, the picture of the book that you would write, if your friends hadn't written all the books. Dan, take it away.

Dan:
Great. Yesterday I was talking with a law professor, and he described how he's using Google Hangouts to make it through to the end of the semester, and then he said, "I can't wait to get back to real teaching." Jonathan, how would you respond to him?

Jonathan:
I'd kind of be curious what he considers real teaching. What's actually happening in his, I assume his in-person environments it's that much different. My brother-in-law is a faculty member who was forced into teaching live, online in the last few weeks, as we're all social distancing, and he had the reverse reaction. He can't see himself going back to teaching the old way. I guess it's in the eye of the beholder.

Dan:
One of the things that you mentioned in your book, as something unique that you can do in a live, online setting, using tools like this one that we're using is debate and that was exactly one of the examples that this law professor gave of what he couldn't do now because he's used to having a whole debate set-up in his class with several rounds, and he had done some of that, but it was just fascinating to me that, what is real, you know? You both addressed that question in your books, 15 years ago already. Susan, what about you? What would you say to him?

Susan:
Well I would've turned the question completely around and said, "Why are we focusing on real teaching? Shouldn't it be about what's being learned?" Perhaps he is looking at it in the wrong direction.

Jonathan:
It's also dangerous to debate with a lawyer so we might just let him win this one, but actually you bring up debates. Debates are one of the longest running live, online programs, is an online debate program that's run out of a New York City Schools in District 75. Special needs learners who are debating timely topics, live, online across the city. It can take a little adjustment. You're not having the podium set-up and two parts of the classroom, and having two people look at each other in the physical space, but think about how you can bring in judges from around the city, around the world to be part of that debate stage.

Jonathan:
Think about how you can bring in artifacts from the web, and include different people and perspectives than just those who are in the classroom, and the same people you would otherwise be interacting with everyday. There's a lot of differences, and sometimes advantages to moving something online.

Susan:
Right. I think if you just focus on the similarity though, in terms of what you want as the outcome. There might be different structures and different rules that you need to put in place, but again, focus what you wanted that outcome to be for the learner.

Dan:
And I think your pointing at Susan, you've both made a good case for the fact that the technology isn't the barrier. It's this mindset shift that we're all talking about here, in terms of what is the one thing that he would need to think differently? In order to then embrace that opportunity that he has versus seeing it as a just a waiting until we get through this and I'll go back to the real interaction that I used to have.

Susan:
Well something that comes to mind for me, especially right now, all of us feel distance and so having that human connection, and being able to see each other and talk is a definite social benefit. When you bring your students together in a classroom situation, you need to acknowledge that and leverage that. It's that human connection, which means learn to turn on your camera, learn to make sure you have a working microphone, and to some extent, you've got to get beyond the embarrassment of maybe not looking perfect or not having it all together for the sake of we want to have this human interaction.

Dan:
So it's very personal, and that's something that we can really leverage now.

Jonathan:
You think about it, Dan, I'm wearing a headset I wore when I taught my classes around the time Learning in Real Time came out, just for old times sake, and when you're in a live, online environment, and to some extent in an asynchronous online environment, you're whispering into people's ears. It is a very intimate experience. You don't need to shout from the front of the room. You don't need to project to the last person sitting in the last row. Today because people are [inaudible 00:08:01] from their homes for these sessions, you're getting to see people in their natural habitat. That's also a rather intimate experience. There's a chance to get to know your learners in a different way and in a different context, and for some in a context that is more natural for them. For others, it might be foreign to have their teaching professional, their instructor showing up in their living room or their bedroom or for some hanging out in the closet to escape the noise of roommates or family or relatives.

Jonathan:
But there is a unique opportunity when you think about what would it be like if I could just be essentially talking directly into someone's ear? It's a much more egalitarian environment than a traditional lecture environment.

Dan:
Definitely. Let me ask you both, what would you not say or change or modify based on what you wrote 10 or 15 years ago? Is there something that has dramatically shifted that you think should be said now, that you couldn't say before?

Susan:
Something that has changed or has not changed?

Dan:
Well what would you pick out of the book as not relevant or what would you add in, in saying, "This is something that I really need to focus on."

Jonathan:
I can think of one thing I would change. Back then I had to explain to people what we now know as emoji, and I called them emoticons, which is what they were called back when the book was written. I think I'd swap out that word so people would know what I was talking about, and they wouldn't think I was that old. But I was just scanning through the book, and it was funny at the time I wrote it, I was trying to make it vendor agnostic so that it could apply in any of the different platforms that were being used. Most platforms had whiteboards, the options to use video or audio only, the ability to share your screen or to move into smaller, breakout rooms, and without getting into the specifics of how they worked, I was trying to create a timeless guide to speaking and connecting with learners live, online, and it just occurred to me that as I was scanning through the book there is very little that has not held up because of that vendor neutral approach.

Jonathan:
While the technology has gotten better and more ubiquitous, the core functions are still very much the same. Except for the ability to maybe put up a background in real time.

Dan:
You did say in one of your... There you go. Now you can be in front of the Golden Gate Bridge, and kind of float in the sky.

Dan:
You did say in your book, at some point we'll have high definition video in our meetings, and I read that and I thought, well yeah, of course and here we are. We're doing it this three way, high definition.

Dan:
Susan, what about you?

Susan:
Something that's really come to mind, again, my book was written for the person who was studying, the learner or in this case, we might think about the worker who's having to complete training. There was a substantial section that was dedicated to getting in the right mental frame for this. Taking the ownership of the learning, and setting aside time and whatnot, and right now all of our lives are so disrupted so we tend to do things in short blocks of time before the next interruption or before you've got to turn your computer over to the kid who is homeschooling so if I were to write it a slightly different book, maybe for the people who were designing learning, I would emphasize again, doing things in small doses, in chunks so that learners could get a portion of learning done before the next disruption. And to work it into their life in a more natural way.

Dan:
Let's jump off of that because a lot of people right now are saying, "I was going to do this full day workshop, but now I don't have that option. I was going to be face-to-face, I need to do it online. How do I do that?" I'm going to lead into this with a quote from your book Jonathan. In there you say, "Technology doesn't lecture, people do." And I would modify that to say, technology doesn't make workshops boring, people do. Give me a couple examples of things that you're seeing in how people are taking a face to face learning experience, and then turning it into something that really holds people's attention or gets to the deliverable or the goal that people want from that event?

Jonathan:
I think one thing that's useful to keep in mind as you're making that transition, are to think to yourself, if I can assess a given skill in this format, I can teach it in this way. Experiences that involve letting your guests, your learners, your participants demonstrate their skills, practice in realtime, are often a really effective strategy for making something engaging, and making it work. To the quote that you shared about technology doesn't lecture, people do. What can you do in these environments that actually shine the spotlight on your participants? One example would be allowing people to do guest spots, turnover in real time the floor to people who are part of your learning. Doing role plays in realtime. Anyone who is teaching customer success.

Jonathan:
What's amazing about this period in time, as disruptive as it is, is that people are needing to learn how to do their jobs online. If you're no longer at a call center, and now taking calls from your home, or if you're no longer conducting meetings to do your training, and now need to do them online, the actual learning experience is a great place to practice what those kind of skills now look like, in a world in which you're not necessarily interacting face to face.

Susan:
One of the things that that reminds me of, I have a friend who is a physical therapy professor, and all of a sudden she was thrust online. Clearly her labs, she cannot teach online because she literally needs the student to come in and manipulate a person so that's been put on hold, but other aspects she has been able to break into smaller segments, and move part of that instruction online. She's really effectively blended the asynchronous with the synchronous so that the students can do some work offline really. They'll access content, they'll have things to think about. Jonathan, she gives them some practice activities. Then they come together, and they talk about that, and they kind of flesh that out, and that's been a very effective practice for her students.

Dan:
One of the things that we talked about back when the three of us were with Learning Times, sharing ideas with the Learning Times community was to have people go out into their context and practice and then bring that back. Now we're not as free to go literally out far, but there's things we can do in our home that then we can demonstrate to create an experience, and then bring that back into the conversation.

Dan:
One of my friends that I've followed for a couple of years, that's also in the book about learning says that, "The online environment should be about either chat or challenge." It's either a conversation that you have people debating on, an important problem or topic, or it's giving them a challenge that they have to solve. When we think about moving from a face to face, what is the core problem that you're trying to solve in that face to face event? Take that same problem into the online space, and present that. Don't just assume that you can't now have a problem solving experience.

Jonathan:
I love what you're saying. There was a concept in the book that we called the synchronous compact or the realtime compact, a compact meaning like a deal you make, and whether it's in a learning context or in hosting meetings online, if you're the one hosting the meeting and calling people together in realtime, your end of the deal is that you will make good use of the time that people are together. You're not going to force them there to do something that they could have or should have been doing on their own or that they could have done after the kids were asleep. And their end of the bargain is that if you're doing that, they will show up and they will be attentive. They will do their best to block out other distractions and to be present and to participate. If you can't meet that bargain, if you can't answer the question, why do I need to do this in realtime, and disrupt everybody's lives at the same hour, no matter their timezone and where they are, and ask them to block out all the competing priorities and distractions, then it shouldn't be live.

Jonathan:
If it's not a chat or a challenge, as you put it, perhaps it should be done in a more convenient format or a different format.

Susan:
Do you wonder, over time, what that's going to mean for face to face events?

Dan:
I would hope that we would, in essence, learn that there's so many values to bringing people together in realtime, whether it's online or face to face, right? It should help us to really evaluate what we're doing during those meetings. Jonathan, you were going to say something.

Jonathan:
No, go ahead, Susan.

Susan:
I just think it's going to cause all of us to re-think what we do when we are together, to make sure that that is the best use of time together.

Jonathan:
That's such a good point. The same logic about that bargain or compact, about making good use of time live, online, applies in person. By the point we're ready to deal with that question again, most people will be ready to spend some time away from their family and friends, and they will be eager to spend time with people, but they will indeed say, "I'm not going to take it for granted. I want to make sure I make the most of it when I'm together with my colleagues, and with my peers and my networks."

Dan:
One thing, I'm going to shift a little bit here, and tell me if you think it's relevant, but one thing that you both talked about in your books is e-portfolios. We don't really use that term too often now. I don't hear it very often. There is something there about this when you're developing these skills, how is that captured and represented, and does that become part of your identity going forward? Have things changed in the e-portfolio environment since you both wrote your books?

Susan:
I think that's a little bit of a loaded question.

Dan:
It is a loaded question, but I know what you're doing now so I want you to tell me what you think.

Susan:
Can I answer my succinct answer, and then Jonathan can kind of close it out.

Jonathan:
I love how Susan knows she will give a succinct answer, and I will not, and she is totally right, and yes, please.

Susan:
Especially since I've morphed from the world of higher education, where I think e-portfolios were a little more common, essentially what you're talking about is identity management. Who is Susan Manning, in terms of what she's done, what she can do, what her skillsets are? Mine is now better represented through my digital credential portfolio, which is known as a profile. If you look at that you'll see what I've most recently accomplished, and what skills are embodied in that. That tells you a lot more about who I am, as a professional, than an e-portfolio, that may become dated.

Susan:
Jonathan, you can take it away?

Dan:
Before you do Jonathan, I want to interject here because I think that as people are spending time developing new skills, whether it be how to facilitate an online workshop, everyone is learning technology for sure, but also how to then create these meaningful experiences for others, and as the global economy is now shifting into needing new and creative ways of generating income, I suspect that the gig economy is going to become particularly important. Who today isn't thinking about what product or service can I sell online? Because that's still going for us. Knowing your reliability, your credibility, your, how do I trust you offering you this service? How do you verify that? All right, Jonathan, I'll turn it to you now.

Jonathan:
That's a very good point. When you're stripped away of where you work, and what your sense of normal is, and you feel like you may need to figure out life ahead of you in a very different way, you start to strip it back to what can I offer the world? What do I know? What can I do? How can I prove it? The work that we do today at Credly actually came from the learning in real-time environment. In fact, a big impetuous for thinking about a new way of helping people tell their story in a trusted way, came out of these, the spontaneity of these real-time environments. You got to see people's skills in action. How are they as public speakers? Can they think on the fly? Can they solve problems? Are they good at civil discourse, and working with other people? Do they have a customer service orientation? A whole range of application of technical skills in real-time, and yet most of those were never captured or recorded in a useful way.

Jonathan:
So much of who we are and what we do happens often in places where it's not captured my traditional assessment. It's seen by our peers, and maybe seen by our facilitators and instructors, and yet, at the end of the day, you get a grade, if anything maybe a manager will allow you to take a course, and have something reflective in an internal HR system. But the vast majority of our skills are often not reflected in any kind of portable way, and it was that concept that lead to the work that we do at Credly, which was can we create a structured format, a consistent way for data about you to be carried with you from each environment into the next? That's really what we've seen develop over the last several years, and it's gone from informational learning experiences to capture skills and competencies, right up into the gold standards of the industry certifications that you earn.

Jonathan:
They're all portrayed in the same common, structured way. Yes, whether you're a gig worker trying to make the case for a project or a job or to start your own company or you're looking to keep your job, or to get a promotion or maybe to cross careers, and you want a way of exposing the individual skills that may have been developed and show how they're applicable across environments, it does seem like now really is the chance for us to see how this all helps grease the wheels of the labor market as it gets disrupted, and then hopefully soon enough, begins to come back in some re-constituted, hopefully better than ever form.

Dan:
Yeah. I have an amazing example of that. My daughter who is in university is home with us, and she had this rather challenging assignment to write an essay on applying a philosopher's viewpoints into the real world. She really wrestled with it for a good week. And I saw her go into her room, and just three, four hours at a time working at it. She really wanted to at least pass. She didn't have a very high grade in the course yet, and she needed to do well on this assignment. She finally sent it in, and the professor who I guess has some time on their hands right now, sent back the grade within a couple of hours. And it was a grade, and I said, "That's awesome, right? You got an A minus." It was just a fantastic result for her, but nothing in that 83 shows how much persistence that she used to actually write that paper, right?

Dan:
When I talk to her about, "What do you have to offer in the job market?" I said, "It's persistence. It's not the 83. It's your ability to focus on something that you don't enjoy doing very much because it's hard work." That's your transferable skill. But there's no way to represent that easily for us, unless she tells that story. I think there's an opportunity, as we're having people trying to learn all these new skills or creating up scaling opportunities for others, there is something about we, ourselves, all still identifying how do we tell that story to others as well, which I think is something that we shouldn't lose sight of. But it feels like really hard work right now because we're all kind of being spontaneous and improvising, but there is some really great skills that we're developing that we can then take into whatever the next opportunity is.

Dan:
To wrap up here, I want to ask each of you, give me one or two tips for how to make these virtual events, workshops, really come together? Anything that you would shout from the rooftop?

Susan:
Make it personal so that the people at that meeting, the people who are learning things can really internalize it. Also, personal in acknowledging, we all bring our emotions to the game these days, and right now everybody's a little on edge.

Jonathan:
Well said, Susan. My tips would be related to those. I think a couple of them. One, if it drops, pick it up. That was an anecdote that I shared in the book. If you're learning how to be an actor, and you're on stage sometimes you get nervous and you drop a prop that you weren't supposed to, and you lose your lines and you get distracted. Or you pretend it never happened because that's the alternative so you just leave the prop sitting there onstage, and the whole audience is looking at the hat that you dropped and wondering what role it plays in the scene because you didn't bother to pick it up. The lesson I remember learning when I was in high school, and I was that person who dropped the hat and left it there and was hoping nobody had seen it, was no, be a human being. In real life, when you drop something, you pick it up. And when you're in an online environment and something doesn't go as planned, just deal with. Act like the human. Don't pretend.

Jonathan:
People are much more likely, it creates a much deeper bond between the people in those environments, when you act like a real person. Then secondly, I would say the element of surprise or serendipity is a good part of the best real-time learning experiences. So try to set-up the experiences to allow some of the unplanned things to unfold. I had this experience in Zoom, in real life, just this last weekend. My partner's birthday was celebrated while we were all sheltering in place and social distancing so after the dinner was ready and we had gobbled it down, and I had some cupcakes waiting, I opened my laptop and showed all of our family and friends waiting in a Zoom room, wishing him a happy birthday. I think those kinds of things, you can allow yourself the creative license to try some new things even if it's in an unfamiliar format.

Dan:
That reminds me of a great person that you introduced me to, Jonathan was used to say, and I've repeated this to many people, "Engagement is not in the mouth, it's in the mind." And that always reminded me that, we just have to get people to click. He was a master of bringing this element of surprise into the online space, and you just kept wanting more, wondering what's going to happen next in that experience. That would be my kind of challenge to our audience is take this opportunity to really push the boundaries. We aren't talking to people in these spaces, we are interacting with them, and that gives us this opportunity for creativity, for spontaneity, for like you said Susan, so well, for being personal and connecting.

Dan:
Thanks to both of you for a step back, a look back in time, and a look forward into where we're headed. It's been just a pleasure.

Susan:
Dan, thank you so much for moderating this.

Jonathan:
It's been a great reunion. Susan, I still need my copy signed. And I still have one copy for you, Dan.

Dan:
Oh great. Thank you.

Susan:
Thank you. Stay safe.

Topics: Digital Credentials, Videos, Online Learning

By  Patricia Diaz