How to Get More Out of Self-Paced Online Learning

Independent learning formats like Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) still average completion rates well below 20 percent. But this doesn’t mean asynchronous learning can’t yield high-value results.

The key to getting more out of self-paced, self-led courses? Find ways to bring peer-to-peer interaction and mentorship back into the learning experience.

Research shows that a sense of belonging and peer-to-peer interaction (particularly in STEM) improves cognitive engagement and accountability – both crucial in situations where self-motivation determines success. We recommend deploying courses in groups or cohorts to create more engagement and accountability. Additionally, try incorporating the following three tips:

1. Establish a Strong Mentorship Presence

Issues with mentorship participation are among the most common complaints we hear from clients. In many cases, those asked to mentor are higher-level staff members with demanding roles. Understandably, they aren’t always keen on taking time out of their busy schedules to help with training. Here are some ways to strengthen mentorship participation and hold mentors accountable for the important role they play:

Turn lower-level staff into learner “advocates”. Mentors don’t have to be senior level to support other employees effectively. Anyone wanting to help others can monitor learner progress and help hold individuals accountable for meeting benchmarks.

Recognize/reward participation. Employers often ask employees to mentor but rarely reward them for doing so. Be it a lower-level staffer trying to prove their value to the company or a higher-level leader with tribal knowledge, find ways to acknowledge their extracurricular efforts.

Hold mentors accountable. How much more determined would mentors be if they had a metric tied to their mentee’s success? For example, survey learners before and after they complete training – asking questions specific to their mentor-mentee relationship. Or set a goal and track the number of learners a mentor successfully helps complete a course.

2. Give Self-Pacing More Structure

Self-pacing can be risky and ineffective without the right controls in place. We balance flexibility with accountability by building “guard rails” into the delivery framework to ensure that participants can learn at their own pace, stay on track, and get the support they need to complete the course successfully. For example, pre-scheduled checkpoints between learners and mentors to ensure that progress is being made. We also provide insight on how long each course module should take to complete, allowing learners and administrators to set a completion goal that works for their allotted time commitment.

3. Create a Balance of Formal & Informal Interactions

Creating opportunities for learners to interact isn’t enough. Programs need the right mix of formal and informal interaction to ensure that learners are comfortable getting help and support from peers and mentors when they need it.

Formal interactions are scheduled around important topics or milestones – for example:

  • Weekly stand-ups
  • One-on-one progress meetings
  • Final assessment reviews

Informal interactions are impromptu – for example:

  • A conversation via Teams or Slack
  • In-class discussions
  • Open office hours

Formal interactions allow instructors or mentors to determine what learners are working on, where they’re struggling, and how best to help them overcome learning challenges. But, what happens when somebody has a problem or a question outside of scheduled meetings? They may or may not reach out for help and, if they do, will likely have to wait for an answer. In other words, it’s not easy for them to get the support they need when they need it.

On the other hand, relying too heavily on informal interactions puts a lot of faith in learners to reach out, participate in discussions, and ask questions – often in front of a group. Not all learners are comfortable speaking up or showing vulnerability, which may prevent them from getting the support they need.

A balanced mix of formal and informal interaction between peers and mentors will prevent learners from taking a backseat in the classroom and ensure that each participant has ample opportunity to ask for help. Keep in mind that there isn’t an exact formula for how much interaction should be formal versus informal. Creating a balanced mix will vary depending on the participants and learning environment.

About Stage 3 Talent

Stage 3 Talent is a full-service partner in technical education, offering enterprises the experience, resources, and flexibility to tailor learning experiences, cultivate job-ready skills, and expand business capabilities.

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