I’ll admit it. I was skeptical that distance learning could be a worthwhile experience for service contractors. I grew up during a time when distance learning meant taking correspondence courses through the mail! I’m dating myself, I know.

Today, the availability of increasingly powerful web-based applications, such as GoToMeeting, Join.Me, Zoom, etc., have enabled distance learning to evolve into a highly effective way to transmit knowledge to contractors farther and faster than ever before.  

For the service contractor, connecting with a teacher or trainer remotely has a lot of advantages over traditional in-person training. You can learn from the comfort of your own office, rather than having to leave your business. You get exposure to students from other parts of the country, or even the world whose insights and input you never would have heard otherwise. Distance learning provides you with the leverage that comes with being a part of a group where you can reach out and help each other. And learning can continue “after-hours,” as opposed to only when you’re in the class in-person
Distance learning can also be done on your own. Some of us want to go at our own pace. We intuitively know ourselves, and know our optimal pace of learning. Content and tutorials can be stored in the cloud in applications such as Dropbox or loaded up on a Google Drive so you can access it at your leisure. In our case, there isn’t much leisure, so it’s when your long day is finally done. You can read an assignment or watch a video over and over until the content sinks in. 

There are a few downsides with this type of learning. For example, unless the class has a live video component, you might miss some non-verbal communication cues because you can’t see the faces of your fellow students. And since there’s no physical place to go, it’s easier to blow off the commitment to show up “virtually.”


Ensuring a quality learning experience

What does it take to have a quality distance learning experience? It’s a two-part equation. 

First, you need to know what you’re signing up for, which requires you to know how you learn best. It takes discipline to participate in distance learning because unlike going to a class physically, a lot of times you’re either in your office where you can be easily interrupted by work issues or at home where you can be easily interrupted by home life. This is especially true if you’re easily distracted or you’ve enabled others to come and interrupt you at any time. 

It takes commitment to make the distance learning sessions when they’re being delivered live. The live class delivers a group dynamic that isn’t the same if you just listen to the recording on your own. So, make an appointment on your calendar where you’ll commit to learning. Make sure others know you’re not to be disturbed while in this remote classroom. It will be hard for those at work and at home to respect your boundaries, but like most things, it is best handled on the front end. I recommend you address it with all the important people in your life before it crops up, and you have to do cleanup of their hurt feelings about your unavailability. 

Distance learning offers an opportunity to keep on learning. It also offers accountability to the teacher and your fellow students. I highly recommend that you make the time to attend things such as office hours or group sessions. These special learning opportunities are usually a part of good distance learning classes. It offers a unique advantage over seminars and workshops that only teach you while you’re there, and when you leave, you find you’re on your own.

That leads me to the second part of the equation — the teacher. You want a teacher who understands the virtues and limits of distance training. That trainer has to be even more on top of their game because without an in-person audience, it’s much harder to detect student reactions, both good and bad. The trainer (in this case, me) also has to be able to adapt the material and its delivery to serve the channel over which it’s being transmitted. For example, my Build Your Operating Manuals program has both distance and in-person components. And I know our graduates would tell you the in-person experience is a bit different from the GoToMeetings (in a good way).

Yes, I’m biased. However, I feel great training is facilitated by great teachers. And a great teacher is both good at connecting with those they’re teaching and being an expert at what they’re teaching. This doesn’t change whether the trainer is in front of those being trained, in an online session or even sitting at a desk next to you. It takes hard work as a trainer to be able to navigate each of these environments so those receiving the knowledge are benefiting. 

What’s this mean to you? Pick your distance learning classes wisely. Make sure the trainer is not learning how to do distance training while they’re training you. Make sure they have worked in a distance learning environment before, and those who have participated have given the trainer great testimonials.

Think about it. Contractors know it’s not so much the tool as it is the tech who knows how to use the tool correctly and to maximum its effectiveness. 
It’s no different when it comes to distance learning. It’s not just the platform for distance learning or even the content presented as it is the trainer’s skill at using these tools to enhance learning for all.