12 Chief Learning Officer • July 2014 • www.CLOmedia.

Closer Than We Think
t seems like we get less and less of our learners’ atten-
tion and time these days.
I fondly remember the good old days when learners
were allowed to leave their offices and attend a five- to
10-day class. Now we’re lucky if we get them for a
lunch and learn. Yet we’re expected to teach more with
less and have a greater effect on true performance.
Learning leaders have been asked to be more cre-
ative than ever when addressing the shrinking resource
of time. The good news is we are more equipped than
ever with tools and technologies to help us reach our
learners in very powerful and effective ways. The key
will be how well we use these options as we transition
from a mostly classroom- and e-learning-based model
to one delivered via distance and in the context of work.
Enter distance learning. The exciting part about
these new technologies is that, when done well, they
can be anything but distancing. Some best practices
show they can be more powerful than the classroom
we’ve fought so hard to hang on to. But the change
will not come easy and without considering a few im-
portant factors. For instance:
Don’t call these virtual classrooms. We make
this mistake all the time. We name a new learning
convention based on a similar but actually very differ-
ent modality. That’s the case here. I’ve always under-
stood the desire to call virtual instruction classrooms
since it does involve synchronous learning experiences
with a start and end time, but that’s where the similar-
ities end.
We’ve all been attending classrooms for most of our
lives. We know the richness that environment brings,
the degree of interaction and the role of the instructor.
When instruction goes virtual many of those variables
exist, but they are experienced in a very different way.
Learners can’t help but come to their first virtual expe-
rience expecting all that the classroom brings if you’ve
branded it as such.
Take advantage of distance learning’s greatest
strength: time. There is a large amount of research to
support the power of spaced learning and practice —
two variables which are getting harder to do in a tradi-
tional classroom. One of the biggest advantages of virtual
and distance instruction is you typically can’t keep em-
ployees in these environments for more than two hours
at a time. This forces you to spread the instructor-driven
experience out over time. Don’t view this time as a break,
but rather invaluable time when a learner can expand
and apply the knowledge learned during instruction.
Assign applicable work and additional learning to be
done between sessions. Also, build in feedback sessions
with the instructor, peers or managers where learners
begin to apply all that they’ve learned.
Redefine what gathering means. If the learner
uses the time between lessons to reinforce, apply and
expand their understanding, why don’t we use the pre-
cious time with an instructor to do more than rattle
through PowerPoints and watch examples? Many have
heard of the work being done with “flipping class-
rooms” — a model where knowledge gathering is done
outside of class, and class time is used for discussion,
practice, problem-solving and creative thinking. Virtual
and distance instruction is a great way to incorporate
this model and maximize the real-world knowledge the
instructor and learners bring to this experience. It’s also
a great way to bring experts into the discussion who
wouldn’t otherwise be able to attend the class.
Use performance support to pull it all together
and to achieve true business results. Since so much
time is spent outside of class, what better time to teach
learners to apply and stand self-reliant beyond the in-
struction? Bring performance support into the overall
experience as the tie that binds the instructional con-
tent to workplace performance both during the class
and, more importantly, beyond.
Distance learning doesn’t have to be distancing. It
can be more powerful than the classroom if it’s done
well, positioned correctly and supported. With less
time do to more and business pressures to drive per-
formance at levels never seen before, we need to be-
come better at modalities beyond the classroom and
Virtual and distance learning will help transition into the new world of work • BY BOB MOSHER
Bob Mosher is a senior
partner and chief
learning evangelist for
APPLY Synergies, a
strategic consulting firm.
He can be reached at
The exciting part about these
new technologies is that, when
done well, they can be anything
but distancing.