Previous Article Next Article An insufficient focus on tutoring often results in the quality of onlinetraining falling short of learners’ expectations, but a new framework offershelp in redressing the balance. By Patrick McCurryThe Institute of IT Training has produced a set of competencies for peopleinvolved in supporting online learners. The framework covers topics such asestablishing relationships with new learners, communicating effectively withlearners, assessing learners’ performance and using text, audio and videoconferencing for communication with and between learners.One of the problems with online learning, says IITT chief executive Nick Mitchell,is that suppliers of online materials have hitherto overlooked such areas asthe need for learners to be properly supported by tutors.”Many CD-Roms have been ineffective because people have just been toldto get on with it at their own pace,” he says, adding that research hasshown that effective learning only takes place when it is well supported.SupportThere are various levels of support tutors can offer, he says, such asconferencing in real time through voice-to-voice technology on the Internet,which does not require any specialist equipment. This means that at certaintimes there can be regular chats among tutor and learners, the tutor can assesshow students are getting on and students can feel supported.The IITT has also introduced a new associate-level membership track foronline tutors, for which individuals need to demonstrate the definedcompetencies by achieving the Certificate of Online Tutoring Skills. One way this can be achieved is via the IITT’s Internet course, The OnlineTutor.George Edwards, development director at the Institute for Supervision andManagement, which has its own online tutor qualification, agrees thatcompetencies are needed. He notes that the skills needed by online tutors areoften different to those of the classroom tutor. “I have seen lots ofpeople go through our online training certificate who didn’t expect it to be sodifferent to traditional tutoring,” he says.Edwards stresses that he is not talking about online training related simplyto IT applications and where the learning is similar to a correspondence courseor is highly technical, but to the kind of online training that is acollaborative process.”It is about bringing together tutors and learners at different timesand allowing participants to share experiences and imitate the classroomenvironment to a certain extent.”CommunicationOne obvious difference to classroom training, he says, is how tutorscommunicate with students – tutors cannot use body language online, forexample.”Sometimes tutors don’t realise they can pick up the phone occasionallyas part of their support to students,” he says.How information is delivered is also very different. In a classroomenvironment, students and tutor can spend a day together. Online learning ismuch more intense. “Online tutors need to deliver information in smallpieces and regularly,” he says.Karen Velasco, IT training manager at the AA and a member of the IITT’spolicy advisory board, agrees that a different set of skills is needed byonline tutors compared with traditional facilitators or trainers.”Like all new roles it takes time before someone sets out what thenecessary skills are, and that’s what the institute has done,” she says.The need to build relationships with learners is a key part of anysuccessful training venture, she says. “In a classroom the trainer has a physical presence and can often buildrelationships quickly and easily with learners, but online you can’t do thatand a different set of communication skills is needed.”ExperimentingPeter Kayes is director of Slough campus at Thames Valley University, whichis experimenting with ways to support online training. He says students mustnot feel isolated. The university is currently using online training for IT-related courses,but hopes to extend it to non-technical subjects in the future. It offers a24-hour helpline in partnership with a commercial organisation. This meansstudents can access help at any time by email, although the tutor could beanywhere in the world.In practice, says Kayes, there has been limited use of the 24-hour support,with students preferring to wait until office hours and use the university’sphone helpline if they have problems. But he believes the 24-hour service is an important psychological benefitand gives potential online learners the confidence to sign up in the firstplace.One of the myths of classroom teaching is that it is effective, he says, asthere are often differences in interpretation or assumptions made by students.Online teaching is less open to misunderstanding, as so much of it is carriedout by email, but there still needs to be a checking mechanism to ensure thatstudents have genuinely understood the teaching, says Kayes.John Ivinson, a consultant to the IT NTO, says one of the issues that needsto be tackled in online tutoring is the risk of plagiarism by students. “Tutors need to be sure that the student has understood or completedthe course, which may mean using the course in conjunction with an objectivetest carried out in person.”Competencies for online tutorsThe broad headings of the IITT’s competency framework for on-line tutoringare:Plan how online tutoring will be employedEstablish the technical facilities necessary to support online tutoringEstablish relationships with new learnersCommunicate appropriately with learnersProvide administrative supportProvide learners with technical and subject matter expertiseThe full competency framework can be obtained from the IITT on 02476 418128,or see www.iitt.org.uk or email [email protected] The 21st century classroomOn 1 Apr 2000 in Personnel Today Related posts:No related photos. 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