Choosing Online Tools (A Lot Like Buying a Car?)

Often, online course designers have their heart set on using a particular technology tool, e.g. web meetings, whiteboarding, online journaling, simulations, etc. This may be because an individual is already comfortable with a specific tool OR attended a demo where the tool looked really useful or cool. However, a fantastic demo or past experience can falsely lead someone into believing a technology tool is the best choice.

So, how do you decide on the most appropriate technology for your online course?
It’s actually a lot like buying a car. Both activities benefit from a logical decision making process.
Let’s compare these two processes:

Buying_A_CarBuying a Car 

  1. Shop around
  2. Go for test drives
  3. Consider alternatives
  4. Purchase
  5. Go forth boldly with courage! (despite obstacles)

As compared to:

Selecting_Technology_ChecklistSelecting Technology for an Online Course

  1. Shop around
  2. Use the tool in real situations (practice!)
  3. Consider alternatives (more practice!)
  4. Commit
  5. Go forth boldly with courage! (despite obstacles)

This five step process helps course designers select the most appropriate technology tool(s) for an online course.

Step 1 – Shop Around

There’s no point in getting tied to a technology solution before you’ve considered a variety of options. Research is critical to any decision making process. What are the pros/cons of the various technology options that may work for your course?

Consider the following example:
Web meetings can be useful, but will your learners always be available at specific times? Have you considered other interactive discussion tools without time constraints? Would they also meet your needs?

Step 2 – Use the Tool in Real Situations & Practice!

Test_DriveStep Two is often overlooked when selecting a technology tool. Folks may think because they attended a web demo of the tool, they have enough information to move forward. This is not necessarily true. When buying a car, the test drive portion is critical. You may think you love the car, but then you get in and your legs are cramped and there’s no place for your coffee cup.  Similarly, you also need to test drive your technology tool – ask for the trial version and actually try teaching a short lesson with the tool.

What questions do you have after use? With practice, do you feel like you will be able to use the tool effectively?

Step 3 – Consider Alternatives & Keeping Practicing!

Continue learning about and practicing with a variety of technology tools. You may reaffirm your “gut” technology selection or find a better solution. Considering alternatives is always valuable because you are 1) reaffirming that you have selected the best available tool and 2) getting additional practice with available tools.

Step 4 – Commit

Decide_Commit_SucceedStep Four seems obvious – Commit. However, some folks don’t like to close the door on potential technology options for their online course. Commitment is not closing the door forever. It is saying: for this version of the course, I will use this technology until I re-evaluate technology options in the future. It takes time and energy to learn technology tools and get them properly set up. Therefore, once you commit, stay focused on using that tool as effectively as possible:

  • Learn everything you can about that tool.
  • Include easy-to-follow instructions on using the tool for your learners.
  • Document troubleshooting steps to make using the tool easier.

Step 5 – Go Boldly Forth With Courage!

The final step, “go forth boldly with courage,” is the attitude that one must maintain while instructing with their selected technology tool. You should consider yourself “all in” at this point. And you might think – with all the planning and practice you put into selecting the tool – that things will go almost perfectly. But, it won’t. There will be hiccups with the tool and something will happen that you didn’t plan for.

Stay focused on doing what is best for your learners when there are problems:

  • Send out clarification instructions.
  • Develop a workaround for learners.
  • Be empathetic but frank about the fact that technology doesn’t always work perfectly.

ForgiveWe need to cultivate learning cultures that accept that technology doesn’t always work perfectly. In your online course, encourage a culture that forgives technology mishaps – they happen. With this culture of forgiveness in place, learners will be less afraid of technology and more willing to experiment and do great things.

When everyone relaxes their technology expectations a bit, the chosen technology is recognized for what is — only one part of the learning culture. Technology alone does not determine culture. The people and processes put in place around a chosen technology determine how the technology is used, and ultimately, how others react to it.



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