Teaching With Interactive Learning Tools

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Even before the latest economic slowdown, there was a flight among corporate training departments to replace instructor-led training with e-learning. E-learning can be anything from online page-turner content that looks just like a book to CD-ROM or online courseware with multimedia. The name of the game was and is cutting costs and making lots of training available for employees to consume, often after hours and without much support for questions or other explanation. Statistically, students who have taken courses that rely only on an e-learning component often do not finish the courses, much less master them.

The idea of making training easily available on a flexible schedule is also problematic. In a work environment that may have reduced employee numbers through layoffs, the remaining workers usually have to complete most if not all of the former work. Hours are long, and time to focus on training, even flexible training, just may not be there. Plus, lack of support for questions, lack of classroom interaction and the possibly uninteresting format for the training all add to the frustration.

So, is face-to-face training, often requiring travel, the only real answer? Do employees have to be taken away from their regular jobs for several days for effective training to occur? Does training have to be expensive?

What about blended learning? Blended learning typically utilizes e-learning along with some component of human interaction. For the purpose of this column, we are going to examine blended learning that utilizes technology to provide for the human interaction that makes e-learning more effective.

The idea is to utilize e-learning for knowledge transfer and human interaction through technology to answer questions and to explain complex concepts, even to allow students to actually interact with each other.

Technology-based face-to-face training offers the best of both worlds—the flexibility of e-learning and the human side of face-to-face training. There are many vendors providing software called interactive learning tools (aka, synchronous learning tools). Centra, Interwise, HorizonLive, etc., all provide software that offers some of the capabilities we are now going to discuss, possibly even more.

With these tools, the instructor can offer an interactive live training session using an Internet connection for both the instructor and the student. Audio, video and data can all be carried live over the Internet, leaving students to choose where they wish to physically be when participating.

The computer hardware required is usually pretty simple, but required bandwidth is a little less ubiquitous. While some vendors utilize dial-up connections over 28.8 modems reasonably effectively to handle video, audio and data simultaneously, others require at least DSL or cable modem.

Using the synchronous interactive tool, the instructor can:



  • Show slides and videos.
  • Demonstrate various computer functions, such as applications and operating systems.
  • Connect to another URL.
  • Carry on conversations with all students or with individual students through voice or text.
  • Share the whiteboard or another application so that students can share their input with the class.
  • Allow for students to discuss topics in individual “breakout” rooms.
  • Deliver on-the-spot assessments to students to determine comprehension.
  • Deliver online examinations and keep track of results.


Plus, the instructor can record the entire session and make it available on the Web for those who were not present for the synchronous session. Though the recording loses the face-to-face aspect, it does provide information transfer when a student cannot be present for the synchronous session.

A synchronous interactive tool can be used to deliver all of a given course. This type of tool might allow for simultaneous training in remote parts of the world utilizing a single instructor, or it might allow for something as simple as a videoconference among several sites to minimize travel.

Is interaction via the synchronous tool as good as face-to-face? Arguably, it is not. But it is better than straight e-learning without human interaction, and with all the capabilities it supports, it will not be long before synchronous learning through technology is commonplace.

Cutting costs is the name of the game for businesses, and interactive learning tools reduce costs without losing the human side of education that makes it effective for the learner.

Ann Beheler is executive director/dean of Collin County Community College’s Engineering Technology Division, which houses one of the nine Cisco CCNP academic instructor training centers in the world. E-mail Ann at abeheler@certmag.com.


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