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Wednesday, July 1, 2009

All Virtual Learning is Not the Same.

I recently delivered ITSM Academy's first courses in our new Virtual Classroom. It was a great experience - the learners were highly engaged and the pass rates were as high as our physical classroom delivery. I am excited about the possibilities that virtual learning brings and will be working with our team to rapidly expand our online course catalog.

There is certainly a growing interest in web-based ITSM learning. Sparked partially by financial and logistical travel constraints, the opportunity to gain both knowledge and certification from the comfort of your computer is very attractive. The good news is that the capabilities of training organizations such as ITSM Academy to meet this need is growing with the interest.

If you are considering online learning, it is important to understand that the terms "e-learning" or "virtual learning" are often used interchangeably to represent a range of uniquely different approaches. By definition, "e-learning" is "electronic learning"and can include:
  • Instructor Led or Virtual Classroom courses: The learner is scheduled to attend one or more "live" interactive sessions with an instructor using a collaboration tool. Sessions will include audio, video and web-based activities. Supplemental materials may be available 24/7 such as recordings, quizzes and ancillary materials.
  • Self-paced or On-demand courses: The learner takes the course independently at his/her own pace, the courseware is available 24/7 and an instructor may be available for questions via email or other electronic communication. The courseware can be anything from interactive animations to previously recorded sessions.
  • Instructor-guided courses: This is self-paced learning with an instructor guiding how and when modules and assignments are to be completed. There are no live sessions, but the instructor is an active participant and there may be a class forum for threaded discussions.
  • Blended courses: Combines elements of Self-paced and Instructor Led online courses.

What is the right e-learning approach for you? As always, the answer is "it depends!"

Instructor led training is highly interactive and attempts to simulate the group dynamics of a physical classroom. There is immediate access to a "live" instructor so that questions can be posed, discussed and answered. Sessions are scheduled for specific dates and times, but usually do not consume an entire day. The sessions can be supplemented with recordings and offline work. Instructor led training may take longer to complete, but has a finite timeline. It is best to schedule the sessions on your calendar as if you were in a physical classroom. It can be applied to all levels of certification as long as the number of required contact hours is met. This is ITSM Academy's approach to virtual learning.

Self-paced learning is often referred to as "e-learning". It is very flexible, but requires commitment and discipline since it has an open-ended timeline. It is best to create a realistic learning path of no more than two hours in one sitting. As a result, self-paced learning will take longer to complete but can accommodate an individual's availability. It is best suited for foundation level training. Contact hours and progress are typically managed through a Learning Management System. The Qualification Board is currently reviewing the e-learning guidelines for Intermediate courses and it is unlikely that total self-paced learning at the advanced levels will be sanctioned.

Instructor-guided courses are found primarily in academic settings where a course extends over several weeks and there are required (and perhaps graded) assignments. This method works better with longer or more advanced topics.

Most ITSM virtual classes today lean heavily towards Instructor-led or Self-paced with some elements of blended learning. Blended learning will continue to evolve and may be driven by the more prescriptive guidance issued by the ITIL Qualification Board.

ITSM Academy has chosen the Instructor-led method for our Virtual Classroom with blended elements. I strongly believe that quality ITSM training is so much more than memorizing a bunch of concepts. Instructor-led virtual learning encourages learner participation, ensures completion and creates a group dynamic. It is the discussion, debate and practical application of those concepts that creates true value for our learners. Can you achieve certification through the other methods? Yes. Will the learner experience be the same? No.

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