Before I get started, the information and ideas in this post apply to virtually all topics. It is intended as a followup to the earlier post on cybersecurity frameworks but can stand completely alone for those who are interested in other areas.
In terms of delivery, an online course is significantly different from a webinar. In a webinar, a leader may do most of the talking and solicit participant involvement through voice or text input. Some even allow participants to annotate a shared screen (whiteboard). All of these are good, but the focus is often on the presenter and the interaction level is usually far less than in a live classroom.
A good online class encourages interaction not only with the presenter but amongst participants as well. Some may even divide a class into smaller groups called breakouts so those smaller groups can work together and interact more closely. Also, most online courses are for smaller groups and have longer durations than most webinars. Good access to technical support is important for both webinars and classes but is arguably critical for classes to help participants avoid missing important content.
I am a firm believer in learning by doing. I'm not good at absorbing content by listening to someone talk for hours on end. That may work for a few people, but in general, it is not a good fit, particularly when the content is how to do something. Thus, beyond the very basic introductions, courses should include a significant hands-on component. That can include group activities, computer-based exercises, or design activities, for example. There are many more options, of course. While some activities such as constructing robots are difficult to perform meaningfully in an online environment, many - including hands-on computer exercises - work well online.
Another important feature good training needs is reinforcement. Not all work-related tasks can be reinforced by allowing employees to practice on live systems or even on test systems when working remotely. Some reinforcement can be provided by asking learners to revisit course knowledge a few days later (e.g. with open-ended questions), but working on course-related activities days or weeks later provides better reinforcement.
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Taking an Online Class
I wrote earlier about taking an online class. I also offered some tips about preparing yourself to take a class. I am not going to reiterate all of those ideas here, but there are a few ideas worth emphasizing when taking a class from home:
- Decide why you are taking a class. Don't dismiss this with "my boss said I had to", but instead look at it as a positive activity and focus on why you are doing it. Maybe it is to get a promotion, a raise, or to "skill up" your current position.
- Do not be afraid to communicate with the instructor and other participants. If you'd rather not talk, use the text chat if you don't want to type, use voice.
- Embrace and participate in the activities. Many cyber security courses have on-line computer access. Do the identified activities, if you finish early, play; that's what those computers are for.
- Review after course sessions. For a multi-day course, review after class one day, or before class the other. This serves two purposes: it reinforces the content, and it helps make you aware of any questions you may have for the following day. Write those down (but not while driving!) so you don't forget.
- Also review a few days later. That significantly helps long-term retention. Honest.
- If you have the opportunity, work on the hands-on activities a few days or a week after the class to help increase familiarity with the tools.
Learning Tree delivers its online courses, including the System and Network Security Introduction using the AnyWare(r) system. This provides text chat with the instructor/facilitator and with other participants, access to technical support, and other features including breakouts, depending on the specific course.
Most of Learning Tree's cyber security courses have some form of hands-on activities. Those that use hands-on computers provide access to the virtual computers after the class. This program is called the Computing Sandbox, and I was one of the developers of that system. Virtually all courses also provide some access to the course instructor or another instructor for some coaching after the class. Each can be a big help in retaining the content or in preparing for a certification exam.