Online Learning With Oprah

Last Monday on my way home from work I pondered the logistics of Oprah’s online class. Since I did not even register until an hour before the class it’s pretty obvious there is no limit on seats. I wondered how they would manage the chaos of a million people in a single chat session. Not to mention the bandwidth they would need to stream to that many people.

According to Oprah nothing like this has ever been done before. I can see why! What a huge undertaking!

For those of you who did not attend the session and are curious about it here’s how it worked. You register for an account on and sign in about 30 minutes early to claim your seat. There is a quick download of a plugin after that you get to watch commercials until the show begins. Oprah appears in a live Internet broadcast with Eckhardt Tolle. Oprah interviews Tolle and they have a discussion about the book A New Earth. After about 20 minutes a Skype caller asks a question via video. Oprah and Tolle answer it. Every so often another question comes in from the viewers.

As I mentioned in my last post I had trouble accessing the site live as did many others. So I watched the recording the next day. I have not read the book and was not really interested in the content of the class. I was really there to observe how they did it and what the reactions were from the public. So far I’ve heard mixed reviews. Some people who were really interested in the topic enjoyed the conversation. I’d have to say that the experience for me was much like watching an episode of Oprah on TV. Not necessarily a bad thing, but not what I was expecting either. It’s hard for me to be at my computer and stay focused if I am not actively engaged in the learning process…via chatting, whiteboarding, some sort of interaction. As you can see from the screeshot below there is a workbook that you can fill out and the option to talk with others via a message board. Each message board has over 1,000 posts though! So it is a lot to try and keep up with.

If you are participating in the class I’d love to hear comments from you on your experience.

Oprah Online Class

Oprah’s First Class

It’s Monday night. After a long day–first day back after being out for a week with the flu–I’m here at the computer. I’ve been anxiously awaiting Oprah’s online class.

I looked over the prework, performed my system check, logged in 30-minutes early.

It’s now 30-minutes into the class and I’ve already checked my email, read my RSS feeds, and started a blog post. I’m not engaged. I’m not learning. Oprah has lost me.

40-minutes into the class the audio and video is garbled. There are definitely bandwidth issues.

I check the site’s FAQ and read that if you have these problems exit and try to reenter. I can’t get back in. As a last resort the FAQ says to come back tomorrow and listen to the recording.

Sigh…at least I get to go to bed early now!

10 Lessons I Learned From Delivering My First Synchronous Learning Sessions

Earlier this week Tom and I delivered our first synchronous training to staff at PLCMC. We delivered three Learn to Learn Online* sessions and had about 10 participants in each session. The sessions were great. We only had one major technical problem and luckily that was on our side not the participants side.

Ironically this week Michele Martin at the Bamboo Project Blog delivered her first webinar. She wrote a great post, 9 Lessons I Learned From Running My First Webinar. Inspired by Michele’s post, I’ll share what I learned this week about delivering synchronous training.

  1. Plan, develop, practice, then plan some more. Anyone who has delivered or for that matter taken online training will tell you it is more work than a face to face class. A lot more work! Give yourself plenty of time to plan and develop the training. Then try it out. Then revise it.
  2. Don’t try to wing it. I can’t tell you how many face to face sessions I’ve had to teach with little or no time to prepare. The very first computer class I ever taught was on Microsoft Project and I’d never used Project before. Though it’s not a good idea, you can pull it off in a face to face class. But in a live, online class forget it! Why? Keep reading.
  3. Silence is not golden! Silence will kill you in a synchronous environment. The minute you stop speaking without warning the participants will think they’ve lost their connection and confusion will begin. If you are starting a brainstorming activity, let the participants know by saying, “You have 30 seconds to _____ during that time you will hear silence. I will let you know when there are 5 seconds left.”
  4. Script or notes? Know your style. Because you don’t want any silence, you need to have a script at least when you start rehearsing. Tom and I practiced a few times with a script then by the time we had our first class I was down to just a copy of the slides, an outline, and some key phrases I wanted to say. Some people, like Tom, are great with a script but when I use one it is painfully obvious that I am reading. I do better with just a few notes.
  5. Have a producer. This is actually one of the most important lessons. Since we are going to be offering at least 60 LTLO sessions, I thought I could do some of them by myself. Tom and I quickly discovered why it is so important to have a producer. You want an active class. You want lots of participation. In order to keep that pace going, you need two people. One person just cannot talk continuously, annotate slides, and monitor and respond to chat. Additionally in our last session, Tom ran into a technical difficulty with his microphone. Had I not been there to back him up, the class may have come to a halt only 10 minutes in.
  6. Record the session. I hate the way I sound on recordings! But I was able to pick up a few things after the first session and improve them for the subsequent sessions. For one, all that talking makes you want to talk fast. Don’t! Remember to breathe.
  7. Let participants know up front who is monitoring chat. I noticed after watching the recordings that a few people were sending me private chat messages. I was not able to facilitate and monitor chat so some of the chat questions went unanswered or recognized by me.
  8. No one knows when you make a mistake, so don’t call attention to it. This is true for face to face and online training. If you click on the wrong slide and it’s not glaringly obvious, just roll with it. The participants don’t know. Your presentation will seem more polished if you let the little mistakes go.
  9. Each facilitator/producer needs to have two computers logged in to the live classroom. One computer needs to be logged in as the instructor and one needs to be logged in as a participant. You need to see exactly what your participants see. This is especially helpful if you are using application sharing. Additionally if you have technical problems on the instructor PC you can quickly grab the headphones and move over to the participant PC. This happened to both Tom and I during separate sessions.
  10. Have fun! Yes it is a totally different experience to deliver live, online training. I was incredibly nervous before the very first session on Wednesday morning. But once we got going I started to have fun and forgot about how nervous I was. In fact once we really got going it was all about the learning and I didn’t even think about the two computer screens in front of me.

That is the goal with live, online training. It’s about the people and the learning and not the technology. I have to give credit here to Jennifer Hoffman and Kassy LaBorie at InSync Training. If you are still unsure about online training, take a free course from InSync. Once you experience synchronous training done right, you’ll wonder why you waited so long to jump in.

*These sessions were adapted from the Learn How to Learn Online sessions developed and offered by InSync Training.

Looking for volunteers to give feedback

Tom and I are presenting a pilot Learn to Learn Online class next Wednesday, January 23 from 10-11:30am EST. The session is one hour with 30 minutes tacked on at the end for feedback. The objective is to introduce staff to the synchronous learning environment. Eventually this will be required for any staff who take online classes. The session will be held online using Horizon Wimba. All you need is a computer with high speed Internet access. You can access the audio portion via VoIP or a landline (although the landline number is long distance).

We have several staff members attending but I’d like to have some input from other trainers or really anyone out in libraryland who feels he or she could contribute some constructive feedback.

Email me at lreed “at” if you are available and interested. Happy learning!

We’re Live!

Today Tom and I delivered two drop-in sessions where staff had a chance to try out our new online learning platform Live Classroom. The sessions went very well. We only had two participants who had technical difficulties and I believe those may have been because they were accessing the network over a wireless connection.

The sessions were voluntary. Staff only needed to register in advance so that we could make sure they had an up-to-date version of Java on their PCs. We had full-time staff, part-time staff, front line circulation staff, managers, supervisors, collection management, administration — a wide range of participants.

My biggest fear, and I’m sure Tom’s too, was that we would have major technical problems. Thanks to all of Tom’s hard work and testing and to our IT department for getting our infrastructure upgraded to support this technology, it all went smoothly.

Most of the staff expressed immediate interest in what classes we’d be offering next and how can they get training as presenters so that they can use this tool for facilitate meetings and/or their own training. It’s going to be a busy year!

Here’s a screenshot of one of our whiteboarding exercises. I love the artwork that was added. Additional screenshots are on Flickr. There are several comments on the whiteboard that this will take some getting used to. I whole heartily agree! I’m confident though that if we create a positive learning experience for staff that they will come to love online learning. When it’s done right, you don’t even think about the technology.