Online training is more popular than ever before, but it isn’t without its challenges. One of the most common complaints people have about eLearning has to do with isolation. Students sometimes report feeling alone or out of touch with their instructors and fellow learners.
The internet makes it possible to participate in classes from anywhere. However, long distance or social distancing situations make it difficult to form human connections.
This is only a problem if you allow it to be. It’s possible to utilize online training while also giving learners a chance to form bonds with their peers and participate as a group.
It all begins with how trainers manage each training class. A common method is to include at least one group project per course. These are activities or tasks that learners must work on together, usually handling parts of a larger whole.
Today’s learning management systems are equipped with multiple ways to facilitate this method of training. Some include group chats and forums as well as virtual whiteboards. Text or voice chat may be included so that each group can go to their own space to collaborate with visuals.
It is the instructor’s job to create group projects that set each class up for success. That means having the online tools available to collaborate easily while also presenting questions, activities, and content that spark conversations and interactions.
What can your trainers do to improve the way they manage group projects in online training courses?
- Be Mindful of Learner Time Zones When Assigning Groups
If you are working with a class that spans time zones, make sure you pair learners that are in the same regions. It’s much harder to work together on a project if there are hours of difference in local time. While one learner is awake and ready to work, the other may be going to bed.
When there aren’t enough learners in the same time zone to form all groups, make sure they have ways to stay in touch when they can’t do so in real time. For example, a message board or forum will allow group members to leave questions, comments, or ideas that can be viewed at other learners’ convenience.
It may also be helpful to allow extra time for project completion in these situations if possible. This is especially true for more complex projects or those that require more group discussion.
- Provide Access to Communication Tools with Instructions
Have communication tools ready to go before class begins. Most LMS platforms have some form of built-in messaging or chat included. Take time to go over all available communication tools with the class before breaking into groups. You should also discuss how to use them, even if they are relatively simple. Make sure everyone is on the same page and understands how to access methods of communication.
Instructions should also be made available, possibly in a resource library. Learners should be made aware of this, so they know where to go if they forget how to access a chat, message board, or virtual whiteboard.
It’s also best to provide communication tools that support multiple forms of interaction. A text chat works, but it can also help to have options for video or audio chat and a visual aid for brainstorming and idea sharing.
- Make Sure All Learners Can Contact Their Trainer If Needed
Getting in touch with groupmates is important, but learners should also be able to reach their trainer. Everyone should know where to go with questions or concerns. This will allow learners to reach out for help in case things aren’t working out in their group.
The quicker they can reach your trainers the sooner issues can be worked out or confusion can be overcome. Trainer support and input may be needed, especially as the group begins the project.
- Keep Groups Smaller in Size to Encourage Interactions
If you want to encourage more individual interactions, keep groups smaller in size. A small group will give each member more opportunities to participate. It also creates a less intimidating environment, especially for learners who are more introverted than extroverted.
Individuals can be drowned out or ignored in larger groups. Keeping things small increases the likeliness of each person giving equal input and participation in the project.
- Include Step-by-Step Instructions That Are Easy to Find
Have step-by-step instructions ready for groups. These should be covered when introducing the project, but also remain available so that learners can reference them as they go. This resource will empower groups to find answers on their own, without taking up trainer time with easy-to-answer questions.
This is another document that should be readily available online, either in a resource library or somewhere in the group or project portal in your LMS. Keep instructions as clear and concise as possible.
- Use Individual Grades Rather Than Group Grades
There are two ways that most online training courses grade group work. One is to give the group a grade and the other is to give grades to each individual.
The problem with the former is that it gives participants a way to minimize their participation while still getting as good a grade as those who worked hard. Individual grades are typically better because it forces each trainee to take responsibility for the results.
To do this, you will likely need to know what each person is doing. It may be easier to create different roles for group members to fill or to request a list of members and which tasks they will be handling.
- Create a Project That’s Relevant and Meaningful to Learners
Engagement is important, which is why all group projects should be relevant and meaningful to learners. They should enrich the learning experience and not merely be a way to force learners to work together.
The best way to approach this will depend on the subject being taught. You can also encourage interactions by making projects more complex so that learners have to take on different roles or by having learners cover different sections or topics within the larger project.
Find the Right LMS for Online Group Projects
Successful group projects in online learning start with a good LMS. Your training platform will affect how learners communicate and interact. Look for a system that provides multiple resources, like an online chat, whiteboards, shared documents, video conferencing, and voice chat. Supplemental features like a resource library are also helpful.
If you aren’t sure where to begin, visit LMS.org. Explore LMS reviews and learn more about group-friendly eLearning features.