7 questions to ask before joining an online program
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7 questions to ask before joining an online program

Paul Hunter provides an insider's guide to the questions you need to ask before signing up for an online program – and the answers you need to hear
8 min.
December 2018
Question 1: Will this programme help me in my career?

Unscrupulous providers, keen to get your credit card number, will undoubtedly respond with a resounding yes. However, this may be disingenuous. In order to answer this question properly, you must first be clear about your own learning objectives. If you don’t know why you are signing up to a program you should stop and pause. If you are about to invest an additional four to six hours a week on top of an already busy professional and family life, sporting activities and/or other hobbies, you should first be very clear on what you want from this experience. In IMD’s online programs, the first question you will be asked on your application form, and the first interaction you have with your coach will be around your specific aims and objectives. This will be the frame through which you will ultimately decide if your program has generated a strong personal ROI and yielded a meaningful impact. If you’re not clear on where you’re going, you’re unlikely to get there. Beware of providers who simply sell you a program. Embrace learning partners who engage you in a discussion about what you want to achieve.

Question 2: Who are the other people in the programme?

Any online program worth its salt will involve regular interaction with other members of your cohort in a number of combinations. Full cohort interaction, typically via a discussion forum, will be particularly useful to allow you to share best practice in exchange with others and to gain reassurance that you are not the only person in the world undergoing this specific issue! Group interaction (ideally five to eight participants) will enable you to form stronger relationships with a subset of the larger cohort and will lead to robust discussion, debates around conflicting viewpoints, and an opportunity to jointly apply concepts and frameworks to a particular business conundrum. A canny instructional designer will have set up exercises that explicitly focus on providing you with opportunities to gain familiarity with a set of business tools. In essence, it is not the answer that matters but rather the opportunity to flex your cerebral muscles and gain practice with a tool that you will subsequently apply to your own business arena. Pair working allows deeper bonding with one other individual and leads to disclosure – the ability to feel comfortable sharing intimate details around a business challenge you face, leading to personalised feedback and new insights gained from a fresh pair of eyes. Of course, all of the above can only reach their full potential if the other participants have meaningful and relevant experiences to share. If the only criteria for participating in a program is internet access and acceptable bandwidth, be prepared for mediocre interaction and off-the-cuff questionable “advice”, which may resemble the blind leading the blind. If you are not explicitly asked upfront what experience you will be bringing to the party, best steer clear.

Question 3: How is this different from other online programmes I have followed such as MOOCS?

It’s highly probably if you are reading this article, that you have already had some kind of online learning experience, ranging from a dreadfully dull health and safety compliance training (aka death by PowerPoint), featuring tedious voiceover of written text and intellectually dubious multiple choice quizzes, to an engaging transformational learning experience that kept your motivation high and led you to willingly sacrifice more time to stay the course. What makes the difference? It is ultimately a combination of three factors: program content and design; production values; delivery mechanisms. Reflect on the last time you got hijacked at a family gathering to peruse Uncle Jack’s holiday photos. After a mind-numbing hour of random photos, presented in an unstructured manner, many of which seemed remarkably similar to the previous ones, some of which were blurred shots of people’s feet, and you start to get the picture (no pun intended). Perhaps, however, you may have also been fortunate enough to be invited to the world première of your niece Sally’s holiday iMovie – a careful selected filtering of photos whisked on screen for just the right amount of time, ably supported by Ed Sheeran’s Galway Girl and with a total running time of seven minutes. Online learning is no different – well-designed, well-produced, and well-delivered learning experiences can be spotted a mile off. Ask in advance to see the program roadmap, an overview of the activities you will be undertaking, snippets of videos, examples of articles and access to the platform that will be used throughout the program. If the way ahead is not crystal clear, if the content is not built on solid research and development or if you are primarily treated to classroom footage, talking heads and static slides you may want to run for the hills. If on the other hand you feel like you’ve been immersed in an informative, rigorous and engaging YouTube movie trailer which is relevant to your challenges and piques your curiosity to know more, you’re probably in safe hands.


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