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  • Tom Brooksher

Another Dirty Little Secret

A few weeks ago I wrote about online training’s dirty little secret: abandonment. Now it’s time to take on the proud tradition of instructor-led training. ILT is the foundation upon which all instruction rests. We’ve been putting teachers in front of classes for centuries to lecture, explain, remediate, share experiences, quiz and inspire.

So what’s the problem? It’s the “I” in "ILT."

Now, before I’m pummeled by the “if you can read this, thank a teacher” crowd, please understand I’m not denigrating teachers or suggesting they don’t play an important role. I’m just suggesting that the instructor model has a flaw, and being aware of it is the first step in mitigating the problem.

Specifically, the problem is the lack of consistency in instruction caused by the instructor variable. In other words, the presentation of the curriculum will vary from one instructor to another, and even from one presentation to another by the same instructor. In some ways, that’s also the greatest benefit of ILT: The instructor can make a difference. A great teacher can inspire a class or make the most difficult lesson understandable. But a less gifted teacher—or even one having a difficult day—just as easily can miss the mark, or worse yet, stray from the curriculum and introduce inaccuracies or misconceptions.

With ILT, it’s nearly impossible to ensure that every class will be presented with exactly the same material exactly the same way. Maybe that’s OK if it’s a literature class and there are multiple interpretations of the content, and the objective is to stimulate creative thinking. But it’s not OK if you’re teaching compliance and success is determined by whether every member of the class has a clear understanding of a predetermined set of issues and facts.

Self-directed online learning may have its faults, but consistent presentation isn’t one of them. The course plays the same way for all students; they see and hear the same information presented identically. And there are times when that’s not only important but critical to achieving the outcome your learning program requires.

I find that classroom instructors often have the most difficult time understanding the value and benefits of online learning. They can’t imagine an online course being as effective as they are. They may be blinded by years of students telling them how much they enjoyed the class. That’s great, but if you measure your success by how good students make you feel, you’re using a different measuring stick than I am.

To me, presenting the curriculum—whether by a live instructor or online—isn’t about performance; it’s about consistency. If you’ve carefully designed the curriculum and it includes exactly what needs to be learned to achieve the learning objectives, then the presentation is about delivering the curriculum so the objectives can be realized. If you do that in a way that is engaging, fun, inspiring and lasting, then it’s more likely that you’ll accomplish the learning objectives. So the presentation is important, but it must be done well. And, while both ILT and online instruction can also deliver curriculum consistently, it's much more challenging to do when human beings are doing the instruction live.

All right, now it’s time to pummel me with stories of how a teacher changed your life. I’ve got some of those, too.

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