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Essential Ingredients for Good Online Learning

Live Online Learning Success is Learning Success

"How little can be done under the spirit of fear." - Florence Nightingale

Well, it seems we're all online now, more than ever, delivering learning to our stakeholders in every online way possible. It's a bit of a panic for some. I've been a participant in some of this stuff, and let me say, while it's certainly online, much of it is not really learning.

We seem to have forgotten the essential ingredients for good learning, whether online or not. In the chaos and the rush, perhaps it may serve us to take a breath and remember what works in the in-person world works in the live, online world. Yes. It does.

My challenge to you: Take some time to plan your live online learning session. Apply these principles, and you'll be glad you did.

There are five essential ingredients to any effective learning program. Only five. They can be applied more or less, longer or shorter, complex or simple. Yet, all five are needed if your goal is learning and maybe even performance improvement (you know, learners actually USING the stuff they just learned back on the job).

They are:

  • Rationale - Why should I learn this?

  • Objective - What will I be able to DO when I learn this?

  • Content - What "tasky" and "smarty" knowledge do I need to do this?

  • Practice - How can I develop competence and confidence to do this?

  • Feedback - How am I doing? How did I do?

Side note: Include these ingredients and viola! You have an engaging, live online learning session!

​You want more depth on these suggestions? Sure thing. Read Erica Keeps and Harold Stolovitch's book "Beyond Telling Ain't Training Fieldbook." It's loaded with examples.


This answers the questions why your learners should learn. The best scenario is prima facie, meaning, "on its face." It's obvious. We accept it. For my learners, my topics are business related and there's lots of prima facie relevance. For other topics, that are compulsory or mandatory, you may need to work a bit harder to show relevance. So, use case study or simulation, or at least a pretest, to let the learners know what and why they need to learn. Some call this "What's In It for Me."


Too often, we are covering content and topics and NOT focusing on tasks and work outputs. That's a common problem in instructional design since the dawn of time. With a bit of analysis, figure out what task to what performance criteria are you going to deliver to the learners? With some thought, I bet you can define it in clear, simple language.


There are two types of content: Procedural and Declarative. I sometimes call these "tasky" and "smarty." Tasky content is the how to, the step by step, the "what to do next." Smarty content is the why, when, and if types of stuff. Deep knowledge and experience to know when, if, and whether you should do something. Some call this 'expertise." Both are vital for real world performance. Again, with some thought, you will be able to tease out the essentials here.


Real world, relevant, and authentic practice is essential. Give your learners a chance to do what they are supposed to be learning to do. Try it out. You'd never learn to ride a bike without getting on a bike, would you? Use case study, simulation, dry runs, rehearsals, role plays, mock ups, and other techniques to give learners some practice doing what they are supposed to be learning. That way, they won't be practicing on the job, making mistakes, and blaming the training!


In some cases, feedback that encourages, nudges, corrects, and confirms is almost enough to shape performance. It is essential encouragement that gives a newbie confidence and a feeling of competence that they can do what they've learned, and will persist if they run into trouble back on the job. Some argue this is THE ingredient, along with practice, that makes training, training.

Now, facilitating live online seminars is a unique skill set. Much of what you already know how to do transfers to this format. However, we can all do more to develop these skills. Check out the International Association of Facilitators for development opportunities and networking.

If you need inspiration, check out Thiagi's new book on Live Online Learning Activities.

So there you have it. Five simple ingredients you can integrate into any learning program, either live online or otherwise. With some thought, planning, and creativity, you can get your learners to truly learn, and feel good about the experience.

Thanks for reading. I gotta go to my next Zoom call. It's finally Happy Hour!


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