Let’s say you’ve been spending the last few years on the other side of Mars and just tuned into the blogosphere to find out where online learning is today.
What would you discover?
With all the focus on social networking and social media (SN/SM) you might conclude that online learning — especially asynchronous elearning — had gone the way of the manual typewriter, 8-track tape, and those TV dials that used to change the channel and adjust the volume.
Advocates of SN/SM probably don’t see a problem with that (who wants to get up, walk over to the TV, and change the channel anyway?!?).
But here’s the thing:
Mentoring and training are not the same thing. They serve different purposes, take different amounts of time, and require different skill sets.
Here’s an example:
Let’s say your fundraising for program development in your association is conducted by volunteer members from a committee. The committee of five rotates 2 or 3 members off and on each year.
Which is the most effective way to prepare your volunteers for their responsibilities? (Select one answer.)
A. Call each individual and explain to them what’s expected. This is individual mentoring.
B. Convene a general call with the full committee and explain everything. This is group mentoring.
C. Create a brief tutorial that covers all the essential information, and make sure all committee members complete the tutorial. This is training.
D. None of the above.
Best answer? D. Why?
A& B are more personal, but you risk leaving something out that could have significant legal or financial implications. A requires a lot of patience and time. B requires you to decide whether to have the entire committee on the call (with some attendees who have heard the information already) or just the newcomers (who won’t gain from the experience of those who served on the committee the previous year).
If planned carefully, a tutorial will ensure you have covered the essential tasks, requirements, legalese, etc. But even the best online training can’t anticipate every question that could come up.
So the best way to prepare this committee is to provide an asynchronous tutorial that gets everyone on the same page followed by individual and/or group mentoring to answer questions that the volunteers might still have.
If you expect your volunteers and members to learn everything from you (as a staffer) and each other via SN/SM, you’re guaranteed to discover gaps and misunderstandings.
There is no mistaking it: online social networking sites (whether they are interal or public) provide for excellent mentoring.
But mentoring is not the same as training, and shouldn’t be substituted for it.
Social networking/social media are not the same thing as training, and shouldn’t be substituted for it, either.
So let’s not let the big discussion (necessary though it is) to cloud over the continuing importance of online training.
eLearning is not the 8-track tape. It’s the electric guitar you could hear on the 8-track and the cassette, and now hear via CD and digitally in other ways. The guitar will likely change over time, and the delivery of how you access it will certainly change, but the instrument itself is here to stay.
SN/SM is the tape deck, the turntable: it’s the platform. It’s another way of delivering content.
Don’t mistake the CD player for the music you hear when you turn it on.