In a school setting, it could be assumed that all staff understand the fundamentals of what makes good online staff learning content. However, many individuals responsible for staff professional development budgets are not teachers; often coming from business or industry backgrounds. In addition, adult learners have different requirements to children, and as many teachers have recently discovered, online learning has different requirements to face-to-face learning.
While online learning will never completely replace face-to-face training (operating an Epi-pen for anaphylaxis will always be best taught in person), it is an increasingly important (and relatively inexpensive) component of staff learning—across all industries. Thanks to COVID-19, there is now more online learning content than ever before. Some of it is great, some of it is good, and a lot of it is rubbish.
How do you wade through the thousands upon thousands of options to ensure that the content you’re choosing—or creating—for your staff is one of the gems?
In your search for online staff learning content, you want to focus on content that is purposeful, affordable, from a reputable source, engaging and includes worthwhile learning objectives and assessment.
While it may seem obvious to state that learning offered to staff should align with the greater goals of the school and the individuals, often in our rush to meet deadlines or teacher registration PD hours requirements, we can sidestep the planning as too time consuming. However, taking the time to consider the school’s strategies, vision and mission, and individual staff professional development plans, can ultimately save time (and frustration).
Being purposeful about the learning offered to staff will increase ‘buy in’. Instead of the usual, “Sigh, another wasted professional learning day when I could be doing something useful”, staff can see the relevance to the school’s goals and their own career goals.
Spending time analysing the training gaps of the school and of individual staff members will also help focus your search for learning content. Developing a professional learning strategy complete with a road map, buy in from all learning leaders at your school and a vision of what you intend to achieve is a significant first step in this process and key to narrowing down and prioritising content searches.
It’s a trap to assume that learning content that is expensive – or even that has a cost – is going to be better than free content. Never judge content purely on its price and never pay for content that you can’t sample or test.
Once you have a topic, it can be tempting to simply ‘Google’ and see what comes up. However, you will get thousands of results and spend a lot of time looking for content that meets your specific needs. (Searching “teachers’ professional online learning leadership courses” returns a mere 1,210,000,000 results, many of which will not be courses and most of which will not be applicable.)
To find quality learning, start with the research rules you learnt at university – focus on reputable sources, such as government sites, professional teaching or industry associations, research bodies, universities and noted subject matter experts. If you can’t find “courses”, you can often use your learning management or staff learning system to turn “information” into “learning”.
Obviously, the substance of the content is key. The content must be correct, up to date and suitable. However, good content can be poor learning. What makes some content better learning than others? When reviewing learning content consider the following questions:
- Is the content appropriate for my school? An outdoor worker safety course written for a construction site may not ‘translate’ to a school setting.
- Is this content at a suitable level for the intended audience? Content that might be suitable for senior executives or experienced staff may not be suitable for trainees (and vice versa). Does this content build on the knowledge that the staff already have or does it cover old ground?
- Is the language used appropriate? Consider the complexity of the language used and whether it will too difficult or simplistic for the intended learners.
- Is the content ‘textured’ to aid learning? Does it use images, case studies, user stories, videos, audio and the like? Do they support the learning and increase engagement—do they make the text more memorable or do they detract?
- Are there elements that will decrease your learners’ engagement? For example, long unbroken tracts of text to wade through, monotone or computer-generated audio, distracting music that can’t be switched off, excessive formatting?
A note about formatting: it can be tempting to think that more formatting is better. But formatting is like spice in a dish – too much or little can ruin it, but just enough turns ‘ordinary’ into ‘wow’. A screen that is ‘busy’ with multiple fonts, jarring colours, and lots of images can be just as difficult to comprehend as a flat swathe of text.
Learning and Assessment
All learning content should include learning objectives, outcomes or intentions. As learners, we cannot not take in, remember and apply everything that we read or hear – whether face-to-face or online. It’s important that learners know what they are supposed to take away from the session.
When considering learning content, check the following:
- What are the learning objectives? If they aren’t stated, what are the key points that staff should remember?
- Are the learning objectives tangible and realistic? Objectives should use verbs, such as “understand”, “demonstrate”, “apply”, and they should avoid absolutes such as “all” and “every”. “Apply all WHS requirements to every aspect of work” is an unrealistic outcome from a short learning course. “Understand the WHS requirements applicable to your work” is more realistic.
- Does the content support the learning objectives? If the learning objective is “understand X”, then content should provide sufficient information to achieve understanding.
- Does the content include appropriate assessment? Depending on the content, assessment could take the form of a formal quiz, reflection questions or practical tasks. Some content may not suit or require assessment.
- Does the assessment test against the learning objectives? If the learning objective is “understand X”, the assessment should test the learners’ understanding of X.
- Are the learning objectives and assessment focused on real-world application? Are learners expected to remember obscure information that won’t impact their day-to-day work? Objectives and assessment should be focused on those elements of the training that make the most difference to our day-to-day practice.
- Are there an appropriate number of learning objectives and assessment questions? Too many objectives and questions can detract from the learning experience.
Building Your Own Content
Sometimes you simply can’t find a course that delivers the learning outcomes that you require. Many learning management or staff learning systems provide the ability to build your own courses, which enables you to produce your own in-house learning content quickly from existing resources, such as documents, videos or websites, produced by reputable bodies.
When building your own learning content, keep the above in mind – make the learning purposeful, use reputable content, make it engaging and provide meaningful learning objectives and assessment.
To convert ‘information’ into ‘learning’, build a course in your learning management or staff learning system that includes:
- Learning objectives appropriate for your staff and their learning requirements. For example: you may have found a great resource on food safety on a government website. Although the resource is primarily aimed at cafes, you believe the content is relevant to your canteen staff. Your learning objectives should draw out the information that the canteen staff need to focus on.
- A link to the resource. When looking at information to turn into learning, don’t forget your in-house collateral—handbooks, videos, policies and so on.
- Assessment that is linked to the learning objectives and practical application of the information to everyday practices.
Finding or creating good online learning for your staff doesn’t need to be difficult or expensive. Spending time in planning and investigating content that is intrinsically linked to your school’s strategy and staff requirements, is well designed and includes real-world application will lead to more engaged staff and better information retention, making the training more valuable and worthwhile in the long term.