There is no learning quite like getting your hands stuck in and learning your profession by ‘just doing it’. Allowing our learners to ‘have a go’ in a situation as close to real-life as possible will enhance the learning experience considerably, as we retain more information when we physically practice it, instead of just see or hear about it.

On-the-job training is often the only way to learn some roles, as trying to explain, simulate or predict some situations is simply ineffective, if not impossible. Strong supporters of the learn-by-doing principle would argue that true skill, mastery and autonomy can only come from real-world practice.

This is the learn-by-doing principle of adult learning, and we can bring this element into what we are teaching regardless of whether we teach online or offline, or our topic’s industry.

When it comes to traditional face-to-face training, this principle is easy to grasp and execute. But what about when we are delivering our training as an online course? How can you ensure that you are meeting the learn-by-doing principle of adult learning in an environment where we are not physically present to run practical exercises in person?

Are you going to be teaching a new skill to your learners in your online course? Online teaching requires very different approaches to teaching face-to-face for obvious reasons. But from my experience working with online instructors, it is not so obvious HOW to do it differently.

There are many ways to skin a cat, and there are many ways to teach people new skills. In this article, I will share with you 4 ways of teaching a practical skill in online training.

  1. Get as Visual as Possible

When it comes to practical training, or teaching learners new skills, the more visual and ‘live demo’ you can make your course, the better. People learn in many different ways – visual, auditory and kinaesthetic. By delivering information online, you have to make sure that you enable all the different type of learners can engage with your teaching. Providing visual diagrams, animations and dot-pointing your information can all help alongside a video showing a real life demonstration of the skill in a situation or environment that is as close to the learner’s own workplace as possible.  Think of the typical cooking show, where the camera gets in close to the meal being made step by step. When the brain can ‘see’ how something is done before it is attempted independently, the chance of success are much higher than just reading or hearing about it.

  1. Get on Camera

Physically get yourself, your Trainers or your subject matter experts on camera. People like people, and it can significantly enhance the engagement, retention and completion rates of your course if your learners can see who is talking to them. We call this the ‘talking head’ video in the e-learning industry.

Your course doesn’t have to be all talking head if you go for this method. Hand demo’s, voice over video and even animation videos can work great – as long as the content clearly demonstrates what needs to be done in the appropriately broken down stages and is highly contextualised to the actual working environment of the learners as possible.

Your e-learning developers and their specialised film crew should be ensuring that each process is suitably staged for easier acquisition of learning, visual engagement and later upgrading purposes later on.  Even if your organisation does not currently have the budget for professionally filmed training videos, a high definition video camera will be perfectly adequate in the interim – any video is better than a PDF! A good ‘how to’ video also enables people to engage in a visual, auditory and a kinesthetic manner, by watching, listening and following along as the training video plays.

  1. Screencast

Screencasting is when you use a piece of software to film or record your own computer screen live, with the sound of the Trainer’s voice narrating over the top.

Screencasts are great if you’re showing people how to fill in a form, use a company system, or anything else that is done or can be demonstrated on a computer. Screencasting also allows you to speak over your PowerPoint slides, with or without your webcam recording you at the same time.  This is great when recorded as learners can follow along at their own pace, rewind any stages they would like repeated and not feel like they have been left to far ahead or too far behind – all common problems when on-screen training is provided in groups traditionally.

There are different kinds of software that you can download for screencasting. I personally use Camstasia Studio, which you can get a 30-day free trial of to test out. If you’re worried about technology, don’t be.  If you cannot hire e-learning developers to help you, the big red ‘Record Screen’ button is pretty easy to find! Camtasia has a suite of free training when you purchase the product, and YouTube is full of demo videos too.

While video generally enables you to engage, screen casting has the added element of showing you learners what to do as you go along with them, explaining each step and illustrating it at the same time.

  1. The ‘DEDICT’ Method of Teaching

When teaching learners a new skill, either in person or online, the DEDICT Method is a great step–by–step principle to follow to make your online training engaging and impactful. Anyone learning a new skill hugely benefits from this method of teaching. The closer you can get to doing this on camera or Screencast, the better and more engaging your course will be.

Here’s what to do:

D: DEMONSTRATE the task at normal speed (on camera or screen cast). This helps the learners get a clear idea of what it is they are trying to achieve, the end result, the outcome, and ultimately what they are going to learn how to do.

E: EXPLAIN what you did step-by-step. Now they have seen the skills performed in real time, break it down into steps, explaining everything you do at each step.  Use talking head, animations, frozen images and diagrams at this stage.

D: DEMONSTRATE again, but this time slowly. With less in–depth explanation than the last step, now repeat the skill slowly, again demonstrating in full on camera.

I: IMITATE Get the viewers to have a go. Encourage them to follow along, do an activity, and share their results.  If they can’t do this from their own environment due to resources, equipment and safety, then see if you can created a blended learning approach.  Start with virtual reality, augmented reality, or a simulation.  You’ll be amazed how cost-effective and easy it is to get VR into the hands of your learners these days – an iPhone, an app and a pair of cardboard glasses will do it.  So whether you are teaching medical science, truck driving or line production, you can easily get your learners ‘practising’ from the board room.

You can also get them to upload videos of themselves practising tasks and procedures to the learning management system, or photographs of finished work.  Most people have smartphones these days so this is no longer a barrier to most e-learners.  They could also submit third party reports from supervisors or colleagues that report on a list of observation, behavioural and result criteria to affirm that the practical element of the learning has been executed.

C: COACH. Give feedback, further advice, scenarios where this would apply, or different scenarios where there may be an alternative way of executing the skill.  Online learning platforms now have many ways to communicate with and create social learning environments for your learners.  It is easy to embed discussions areas, polls, and share video, audio or written feedback with learners on their work.

T: TEST them. Give them a practical challenge, quiz, assessment or activity.  Again, its now extremely simple for learner to upload videos, photos and documents to their learning portal in away that documents it as evidence for assessment for accredited or non-accredited training.  You can also directly create quizzes, tests, exams and polls inside the learning platform too.

Final Thoughts:

Although by no means exhaustive, implementing these simple practical teaching principles and methods into your online training are guaranteed to enhance the learning experience as they bring in that learn–by–doing principle of adult learning that is so critical to any effective adult learning program.