Make E-Learning Effective For A
Traditionally Hands-On Audience

For many welders, instruction comes in a very personal way: their grandfathers taught their fathers, and their fathers taught them. Other welders learn their skills on the job site. These welders, as well as those who attended welding schools, have benefited from tactile learning, a teaching method where an individual carries out an activity, rather than listening to a lecture or watching a demonstration.

By nature our industry relies heavily on hands-on learning. While this style of learning plays a valuable role in teaching both new and experienced welders, today’s technologies offer many options that enhance learning and improve inefficient practices. The welding industry has joined other business sectors in taking advantage of learning opportunities made possible through computers and the Internet. The challenge for welding teachers has been how to communicate effectively with a traditionally “kinesthetic” audience using new forms of online or e-learning programs.

What E-Learning Should and Should Not Be
The perception that e-learning can’t be effective with tactile learners may have been advanced in the early days of online training when there were widespread programs introduced that did not adequately engage participants. These early e-learning programs emphasized “telling” or “lecturing” the subject matter, rather than actually training the participants. Videos that offered “instruction” were one-sided and offered no opportunity for questions or assessment. Tactile learners became bored, even during “live” webinars and were inclined to answer e-mails, search the Web or race through online programs.

Thankfully, the quality of e-learning has improved as companies realized they had to make an investment to maximize the effectiveness, efficiency and appeal of the experience. E-learning had to be able to connect with the audience and provide relevant information that prompted the desire to learn. Professional trainers promoted the use of learning processes with Instructional Systems Designs (ISD).

Companies are now developing good programs that adhere to an ISD model and commit time, effort and resources to making them work. Using an ISD such as the Analysis, Design, Development, Implementation and Evaluation (ADDIE) model provides a flexible approach for building effective training and performance support tools. Through the use of ADDIE, it is possible to effectively engage tactile learners in an online experience with very positive results.

Each phase of the process is critical to an e-learning program’s success. The ANALYSIS phase clearly identifies the audience and its existing knowledge and skills. Are you training salespeople? You must be able to educate them about features that help them sell to the end-user.

The DESIGN phase should be specific and spell out planned strategies for attaining the goals set forth in the analysis phase. For tactile learners, interactive mechanisms can be planned to keep their attention and to support their learning style. Interactive training does not need to be just a page turner.

The DEVELOPMENT stage is where the designers create storyboards and content for the program. It includes confidence checks such as questions and answers and, again, must be specific for different audiences. What is needed for technical audiences is not the same for the sales force.

Hands-on training, while valuable, isn’t always the best, or the only, option.

The IMPLEMENTATION phase prepares the instructors and materials for presentation. In putting the process into action, everything must support the previous planning. And in the very important EVALUATION phase, there must be learner-centric feedback and results. If participants are not comfortable being tested in a certain manner, there should be alternative options for assessment. For example, a pass/fail lab exercise may be used if a learner is not comfortable with a written test. Of course, an observation exercise should have specific steps to assess, and the learner should clearly understand them.

Validation and Flexibility
Trainees who experience e-learning that is engaging and specifically designed to complement and supplement various learning styles develop a confidence that is sometimes hard to obtain in a class setting. These participants can review a lesson when necessary, and come away with improved techniques and additional knowledge that meets their needs in a personal way.

If the person is a tactile learner, and the course deals with a new product introduction, a good e-learning course can bridge the known and the unknown with a series of mechanisms that relate to the touch and feel of the products. However, there may be members of the audience who do not learn most effectively through a tactile experience, and they benefit from the introduction of e-learning programs. They may want to read more about the product’s technical aspects or listen to an explanation about why it was engineered a particular way. For these learners, the experience needs to be different. Still, there may be intermodal learners who require a variety of learning domains. Hands-on training, while valuable, isn’t always the best, or the only, option for training.

In our industry, unlike others, there is a constant cry that training sessions should have a strong presence of lab time, and they should. However, blended learning, the use of both e-learning and in-person training, offers the most effective use of all learning environments. By combining face-to-face instruction with the vast online options, there can be personal interaction with a trainer and also self-paced education, with accommodations for various learning styles.

The Future of E-Learning

By combining face-to-face instruction with the vast online options, there can be personal interaction with a trainer and also self-paced education, with accommodations for various learning styles.

E-learning has grown and evolved through the years, with organizations reaching increased numbers of people globally, with assurances that their messaging is consistent. Instead of reaching 20 people at a time through personal classroom instruction, companies can communicate product and service information to thousands of individuals. Currently, self-paced learning is growing by the largest percentage, with 36 percent of all organizations using some form of this tool. With the implementation of stand-alone self-paced learning and blended learning, organizations begin to benefit from reduced travel costs, as well as transmitting training in less time, improving employee and customer competency and adding service to customers.

Organizations are using robust learning management systems to support their Web-based e-learning courses, aspects of classroom training and a multitude of job resource aids. The tracked results help the learners to see their progress and provide specific return on investment information for the organizations.

Just as companies have to make an initial investment to develop effective e-learning programs to support their marketing and operations, so must they continue to keep current with the latest technologies and processes to stay connected with their audiences. Training must be dynamic and change as opportunities present themselves. The key to reaching kinesthetic audiences, as well as all learners, is developing and delivering training that engages and provides a bridge to knowledge and understanding.

Gases and Welding Distributors Association
Gail Smart Meet the Author
Gail Smart is the training manager for Thermadyne Industries in St. Louis, Missouri, and on the Web at www.thermadyne.com.