Friday, August 14, 2009

What does Broadband Support have to do with eLearning? – Part 1

Recently, I had to contact two broadband provider support teams. One of which was an extremely pleasant and productive experience whilst the other was like pulling teeth.

In this blog post I am going to start with the “pulling teeth” experience. In this instance I was asked to help out some folks who had signed up with an ISP for the first time. Like many other people they had relied on the company that they purchased their computer from to help them get up and running so that they could perform simple tasks like sending and receiving e-mails, viewing web pages etc.

Anyway, they had encountered some problems and through a third party I had been asked to help them out; in a previous life (when we were all using 28 K modems) I was an ISP support technician and only too familiar with the way that some companies address support issues.

So on their behalf I got through to the Broadband support help desk. To save some time, I thought it would be helpful to explain to the support person that all I needed was for them to confirm that I had the correct customer email address and password. The response I got was that they couldn’t just give me the customer’s credentials and instead I would have to go through a long winded linear process.

Whenever I hear the word linear, I automatically think of linear eLearning and how sometimes this can be very inflexible; more on that later.

So now I have to go through the process of confirming each of the support person’s steps which they duly broadcast down the phone to me. Everything was fine until the support technician told me to confirm a screen that I didn’t have. The problem was that somebody else had tried unsuccessfully to configure this mail client application and although I knew what the problem was and how to solve it, like a stuck record, the support person could not be flexible, instead they insisted I had done something wrong.

What does this have to do with linear learning? Well, in many sense asynchronous linear learning can be like this support technician because the learning is simply broadcast out to the learner. Ever faithfully followed the steps in a video tutorial only to find that what the trainer is showing is nothing like what you are seeing on your screen? I have and typically this can lead to two things occurring:

1. The learner starts to lose faith in the training / trainer.
2. The learner is left having to try and work out why they cannot reproduce task to match that of the trainer.

In addition, I tend to start shouting at the video screen, trying somehow to will the learning to provide me with the solution – not that this ever works.

Now don’t get me wrong. Getting learners to work out solutions for themselves in the right environment is perfectly acceptable; however, in the wrong environment this ultimately leads to the learner becoming frustrated and losing faith in either the training content or the trainer themselves.

Also, in the case of much of the eLearning content that is created, the learner is never given the opportunity to correspond with the trainer so that they can find out what the problem might be and learn from either their or the trainer’s mistakes.

If you are creating linear and / or video based training it is important to make sure that you provide your learners with a way of asking questions. Whilst many of us don’t want to be inundated with e-mails, one way of addressing this issue would be to provide learners with a newsgroup forum. If that isn’t possible then consider setting up a mailing list or post updates to your course via a Blog or Wiki.

Irrespective of the type of eLearning content you are creating, it is important to understand that in many cases your courses have to be considered as living and breathing entities that will need to be modified and updated - maybe many times - to meet the requirements and expectations of your learners.

Just in case you were wondering I eventually managed to convince the support technician that our screens were different and they then agreed to give me the information I needed to get my customers up and running, as well as provide them with some basic “how to send e-mails” training.

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