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Where are the online courses? I expected more.

Sep 9th 2011, 00:24

ak4sr

Joined: Jun 10th 2004, 10:27
Total Topics: 0
Total Posts: 0
Recently my local amateur radio club asked for volunteers to work a Saturday morning at the local EOC and cited a bunch of FEMA courses I would need to take before I could gain admittance to the facility. This also sparked an interest in finding out more about my local ARES organization and further training. I have on several occasions wanted to be more involved but have not found most of the ARES groups in the areas I have been in the past couple of years to be very forthcoming with training opportunities.

Naturally, I turned to the ARRL website and figured I would find a long list of available courses and/or self study materials. Imagine my surprise when all I could find were two online EmComm courses, neither of which is available until later this year.

It seems to me that ARRL is missing the online training boat entirely. Perhaps I can best explain where I am coming from best by saying I am both a classroom teacher and a specialist in e-learning. Some sort of random, but hopefully useful, comments on expectations and ideas applied to e-learning are:

- Online training should be available when the student is ready for it. In today's market if a student sees a course that is offered sometime in the future they will usually seek someone who is teaching something similar NOW.

- Online training should not be seen as a replacement for a physical classroom or lecture environment. The means of delivery online is entirely different than that conducted in a classroom. If you find you MUST have a live lecture, a dedicated instructor, and a specified time period to accommodate that instructor's schedule then you are not conducting online training - you simply brought your existing classroom online.

- Some activities you do in the classroom simply do not work online, and vice versa. If you find yourself trying to press-fit a text based curriculum into a hole it doesn't quite fit into in your online delivery system (Moodle) then you need to redesign the exercise. Don't keep trying to hammer it into the wrong hole. As consumers we CAN see when you have done this.

- Just as with classroom learning, students should be presented with a curriculum or a learning track. Learners want to know where they will end up once they complete a certain course of study. In other words, if a Ham wants to get involved in EmComm what classes should he take to start? To become an intermediate? To be an expert? I don't usually like to use this word, expert -- people who call themselves experts tend to know a lot less than they would have you believe. Or, what if one wants to specialize in antenna building and signal propagation? Personally I like homebrew and enjoy the projects in ARRL the most of all.

- People will pay a nominal fee for training they see as worthwhile. They will also complain loudly to everyone who will listen if they feel they haven't learned what they expected to.

- Once you begin offering e-learning you must dedicate resources to the curriculum and constantly develop it. Far too many course offerings on the web are on again - off again affairs that do not last. It simply takes more effort to offer online training than many people realize. If you do not already have an e-learning curriculum specialist then you need to hire one immediately.

- Learners DO expect to be given access to a mentor when taking an online class, but not necessarily to a dedicated instructor. Think "Elmer" not "Professor".

I realize ARRL's main focus is to be a very informative magazine for amateurs, and not to be an online training resource. I do think that the organization has a lot to offer if it does go into full scale e-learning, though. I would likely be in the front of that line.

I also think that if we are going to be able to recruit younger individuals to this hobby it is going to have to be on their terms. My daughters had been fairly cold to the idea of becoming hams. My oldest told me in no uncertain terms she saw it as a hobby of a bunch of fat old men. Once they started building things and experimenting with electronics it became "cool". I think the aha moment was when I showed them a software defined radio I had just finished and how it could interface with my computer and other devices. I think I sealed the deal when I pulled out my iPad and talked on the radio through it and then flipped over to another radio without missing a beat (okay I cheated, it was Echolink and not technically another radio).

Now that I think about it, my youngest daughter's aha moment was when she figured out that with a soldering iron and a few hours of her time she could build a device that would annoy her sister. To each their own, I guess.
Sep 16th 2011, 16:10

K1DMJ

Super Moderator

Joined: Sep 18th 2002, 00:00
Total Topics: 0
Total Posts: 0
You make a lot of good points about online learning. And you are correct that being an online learning resource is not a primary focus at ARRL.

As ARRL's Education Services Manager, I can tell you that our current focus for our online learning program is to deliver basic emcomm training as economically as possible and to make it as accessible as possible. Currently, we offer two recently revised emcomm courses, providing some basic content to a wider audience than it would be available to if we had to rely on volunteers to deliver classroom instruction. We offer these courses at a very low cost to members and try to cover our costs of development, administration and investment in platform and infrastructure integration. We offer as many seats in each session of the introductory course (EC-001) as we can support with the pool of volunteer mentors we have available. Note that the advanced course designed for leaders and managers (EC-016) is not mentored and is totally open to members at any time. We also encourage classroom instruction of the introductory course delivered by instructors who can add their experience and knowledge of the local environment to make the course even more relevant. Some ARES groups are able to provide this; others as you have noted in your experience, are not.

The online emcomm courses we offer are not considered a complete "course of study," though you will note that the prerequisites required for the courses do imply some integration of training and a sequence. Practical experience and hands-on training is important, as is active participation as part of a local ARES or other amateur radio emergency response group. We defer to our local Section Managers and Section Emergency Coordinators to decide the course of study/training they require for participation locally.

We did previously offer some other mentored courses online on topics other than emcomm on an earlier online platform. Though some who enrolled found these courses valuable, these courses were not heavily subscribed and we have not re-invested in updating them for the new platform. You might argue that if we made a more substantial investment in online learning, investing in keeping courses fresh, introducing new topics, enhancing them with the latest capabilities in online media, etc. we might attract more interest. The bottom line is that we're not convinced that our audience is willing to bear the true cost of delivering robust online learning and scarce resources are not likely to be risked for such an investment. Perhaps this is short-sighted.

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