Efficient Seniors’ Training Using Broadband Technology Eric Whitehouse, Diane Brentnall, Mark Young

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Study details

The project undertook a review of the training methodologies generally used to deliver training by ASCCA’s 150 member clubs around Australia. This review included the techniques used to deliver this training in both physical classrooms and via online (virtual) classrooms. Physical classrooms demand fixed time and attendance for the delivery of one-off events which may be repeated by the student. Virtual classrooms generally offer flexibility in time of delivery and can be repeated.

ASCCA has defined different types of learning and teaching within two groups: synchronous and asynchronous. Synchronous training uses the same material, at the same time, at the same or different location, and uses learning tools that encompass both classroom and “virtual” classroom aspects of learning. Asynchronous training uses the same material, but can be at different times and from different places, using learning tools to cover those situations where courseware is delivered without the need for students to gather. More information on comparing both styles of learning can be found in Appendix 3: Synchronous and asynchronous learning. This has been adapted from work done by the Australian government program which produced the Australian Flexible Learning Framework2 in 2008.

In this study, we decided to compare the results (measured by subjective student feedback on the success of learning outcomes in building their skills) of a traditional classroom course with that of a similar pre-set course online.

Asynchronous style learning

A number of asynchronous pilot courses were conducted using a pre-set internet teaching program featuring videos, demonstrations and examples to see if the traditional classroom course could be replaced by an offline course run via the internet.

In these pilots, 35% of students (classified as “tech savvy users”) were very comfortable using Windows 7, and somewhat familiar with Windows through use of previous versions and 65% of students had just completed ASCCA’s “Fundamentals” course, but were not familiar with Windows except in general terms.

Synchronous style learning

A group of over 20 trainers (ASCCA Training Champions) from Seniors Computer Clubs around Australia were recruited to work with ASCCA professional trainers to determine how best to use online synchronous training. Over 100 seniors, many of whom were experienced senior classroom trainers, participated in online training using either “Blackboard Collaborate” (BbC) or “Skype” from all over Australia. BbC is an online application used by many Australian universities to facilitate interactive training. The objective was to introduce them to the online course environment and to have them evaluate outcomes through subjective feedback.

The sessions were in presentation/live demonstration mode, with lots of opportunities for student feedback. No video of presenters or students was used because of bandwidth constraints at various student locations. Students had the ability to ask questions using audio or via an online chat facility which enabled comments to be shared with the whole class or with specific individuals in the class.

After the session, students were able to:

  1. Revisit the session and replay any parts of it they wished;

  2. Download copies of all slides used;

  3. Download a copy of the chat sessions (which are time stamped);

  4. Download any URLs quoted during the session.

Sessions were also run using the “multi-access” version of Skype where up to 10 students at a time were able to participate and to view online presentations. These were run as workshops with notes emailed to students, who could then interact with the trainer and other students. This is a simpler approach to BbC without the advanced features.

The classroom model

ASCCA’s experience has shown that the most effective model for delivering computer skills to all categories of students is the classroom model. It is also the most inefficient because of the resources needed to deliver and the time taken for delivery.

Classroom technologies used by our clubs usually seat between six and nine students, each at a workstation equipped with a desktop or laptop computer. The classes are run by a trainer who is assisted by two or three tutors (on average one tutor per three students) who assist students that may be having difficulties. The classes typically run for four weeks and students attend once a week for 2.5 to 3 hours, including a break for morning or afternoon tea. Students are provided with a manual which explains in detail how to perform particular tasks and which also contains various student exercises. Each course is divided into modules of new skills to be covered, usually 24 – 30 per course.

The process steps involved in the training are as follows:

  • Trainer revises – the trainer summarises any skills covered in previous lessons and answers questions as they arise.

  • Trainer tells – the trainer then outlines what new skill the class is about to cover, and sets it in context by explaining why they are learning it and what use it is to them.

  • Trainer shows – the trainer then slowly shows class how to perform the skill, carefully explaining use of keyboard, mouse, mouse buttons, etc.

  • Trainer re-shows – usually with a different example that may demonstrate another use of the skill.

  • Class does – the trainer gets direction from the class on what to do when, allows mistakes to happen if class direction is incorrect and class can see the result, then goes back to where the mistake occurred, and continues to the end.

  • Class discussion – where any questions are explored and answered by other class members or by the trainer.

  • Class does – class completes a student exercise following directions in the manual. The tutors are on hand to help with any student needing assistance.

  • Q&A – opportunity for any class member to raise questions about skills learnt or to share anything else they may have discovered whilst doing the exercise.

The tea break is important to the learning experience because students enjoy sharing experiences they have had with the course, or related courses, and are generally a useful way for seniors to encourage each other.

The classroom model (or its one-on-one variant) is the most suitable way to teach “absolute beginners” basic computing skills. However, the growing problems of finding suitable trainers and tutors, the rate of change to traditional programs being taught in clubs, and funding the necessary classroom and computer laboratories necessary to conduct such classroom training are driving the need to find alternative learning models that work for seniors.

While this classroom model leads to successful learning outcomes in a vast majority of cases, the question arises as to what happens when classroom, trainer, tutors and manuals are removed and replaced with offline and online equivalents.

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