In a course I teach on behalf of the Association for Talent Development (ATD) on adult learning theory, there is always a robust discussion regarding the difference between education, training, and learning – are they different? And if so – what is the difference?
Recently it occurred to me that the same type of precise definition is necessary when it comes to online learning, between the terms engagement, interaction, and collaboration.
Engagement might be considered the “level one” of online behavior. Engagement includes things like highlighting phrases on the whiteboard, or having the bullets on your slides build one at a time. Engagement captures people’s attention, keeps their interest, and keeps them from walking down the hall to fetch a cup of coffee. As a facilitator and it doesn’t matter if I have an audience of one or an audience of 100-my engagement techniques will probably not change.
Interaction would then be “level two” of online behavior. Interaction requires a response of some type from the participants in the online event. Perhaps they will raise their hand to offer a story, or give a green check to indicate that they have finished reading a case study and are ready to move on. In the same course referenced in the introduction, there is a slide with the following statement:
7-10 days after training, we remember ______ of what was taught in a training class:
- 10 – 20%
- 20 – 30%
- 30 – 40%
Participants are asked to make a mark on the whiteboard to indicate what they believe the answer is, and then the correct answer appears via animation in the blank space of the statement. In this case, again, the size of the audience really doesn’t matter as I’m simply asking for a response of some type. It also doesn’t matter whether their answer is correct or not because the content is designed to “move on” regardless of how they answer, or how many people answer.
Collaboration is the pinnacle of online interaction (“level three”). The size of the audience matters and the quality of their participation is crucial. With collaboration you are expecting the participants to create the content in some way. For instance, you might provide five common objections that a salesperson encounters and ask the participants to work together to craft the five best responses to those objections. Your five responses will certainly be better as a result of multiple people offering their input as opposed to asking each individual to craft their own response. You might break your large group into smaller groups and, through the use of breakout rooms, task each group with brainstorming best practices for different aspects of the giving a presentation: opening a presentation, anticipating questions from the audience, using multimedia or technology in the presentation, and closing the presentation.
In addition to higher quality responses as a result of collaboration, the “next steps” are often dependent on the outcome of the collaborative work. Until participants brainstorm best practices for giving a presentation they can’t go ahead and practice giving presentations. Until the salespeople brainstorm the best responses to an objection they shouldn’t be making sales calls in which they might encounter an objection.
For online learning, it is crucial that the design and delivery of your offerings include collaboration. If a presentation is merely engaging or interactive, in all likelihood it simply could have been recorded and sent to the participants. Collaboration is the “realization” of the value of having participants come together simultaneously.