Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Online or Face-To-Face Learning?

For some time I have been wondering just how many instructors prefer to learn online or face-to-face (f2f). In my daily work I see that most of the learning opportunities I create/offer and assistance/troubleshooting I give are gravitating towards the virtual/online environment. Fewer and fewer instructors are attending f2f events and requests online or more online resources and training have increased.

I find that when I work for an institution, the administration wants me to work on-site. When I suggest that most of my work takes place online and that I work remotely a couple days a week the reaction is almost always immediate no. The rationale I get from an administrator is usually: 1) Instructors need someone to be available on-site so they can get the assistance they require, or 2) It is their policy to not allow employees to work remotely/from home. The first response is understandable, but without basis in fact. The second is more an old tradition that has not kept up with now standard electronic communication and the web 2.0 world.

Speaking to the first point, when I first begin as a consultant their is an influx of interest from instructors and more f2f meetings and attendance of learning/training sessions. However, within a few weeks to a month most of the f2f interaction has moved online. F2f interaction becomes spotty, the phone rings less and less and email requests for assistance and help with learning increases. When someone requests help, most of the time it can be accomplished via email, directing them to online resources I've created or linked to, using online conferencing software to conduct a session, or taking with them on the phone. If that does not suit their learning need we schedule a meeting in which the questions can be answered or subject matter can be learned. I plan on conducting a survey to gather data on online and f2f instructors on a number of questions including learning mode preference. If I can get the survey deployed by December, I should have the results interpreted by February or March.

Now to the second point. I find it almost amusing that while most higher education institutions offer teaching and learning opportunities online, they do not allow staff or in my case instructor to faculty to do the same. If instructors can teach and students learn remotely, why cannot those who work almost entirely online do the same? Taking into consideration that those who work with proprietary information may be excluded from the group, it just makes sense that those whose job it is to assist with primarily online curriculum and who spend most of their time communicating virtually should be able to work remotely. Personally I get just as much done or even more than when I'm on location. A recent study found that employees that work remotely end up putting more hours into their job than less (I'll locate this study and post the reference).
Environmentally speaking it saves resources and money. An institution uses less electricity, heat, and office space, and the employee spends less time and gas commuting thus having more time to accomplish their job.

This paradigm shift is slowly happening, but most often the worry is that workers won't really be working. The mindset erroneously is on-site = productivity. Closer to the mark is that managers will have to change how they oversee those under them. The fear is if someone can work remotely, then just who am I going to monitor, and will my employer need me? When most of the overseeing is based on stopping by an employees office/cubicle or scheduling f2f meetings, it gives the impression of work getting done.
To make the transition to remote workers, mangers and administrators must establish "Trust" within their workforce. In essence, I trust to you work when you are saying you are and you trust me to keep you informed. Productivity can and should be judged by work accomplished rather than physical presence. Productivity over presence is the catch phrase of remote workers. As to managing employees, meetings can be held online and most communication will continue via email and phone as it presently is and web 2.0 applications can be fully utilized. It's the same work, the same chain of command, just a different mode of communication and collaboration.

So, have I missed a salient point, or major issue? Let me know your thoughts.