E-learning meets e-coaching: powerful e-learning programs for behavioral development
E-learning is an applied way for people to develop new skills independently and at their own pace. However, the drop out is high and participants usually have difficulty applying new skills into practice. Including an e-coach who listens, thinks along and motivates during the e-learning program, proves to be an effective way to realize real behavioral changes on the work floor.
At the request of Wikimedia Netherlands, eCoachPro designed an e-learning program for Wikipedia contributors to develop their online communication skills and optimize collaborative editing processes.
Case study: Strengthening communication and collaboration skills within the Wikipedia Community
When Wikimedia Netherlands conducted a survey among Dutch and Flemish Wikipedia editors, the results showed that they saw room for improvement in the interaction and collaboration on the online platform. How do you establish conditions for constructive working relationships between Wikipedia editors? Wikimedia Netherlands asked eCoachPro for help in finding the answer to that question. In turn, eCoachPro’s communication and behavioral experts, who are specialized in the field of (online) communication and collaboration, developed the ‘Successful Online Collaboration’ program.
"The collaborative editing processes are typically quite peaceful and constructive. The editors are also very involved, but when people work together on a Wikipedia page, they can have differences of opinion about a certain aspect. Especially if you do not know each other personally while working together in an anonymized, online environment. In such instances, a conflict can suddenly arise," explains director of Wikimedia Netherlands Sandra Rientjes. "New editors may also have to get used to entering such a tight-knit community, even if it is an online community. If you are a newcomer and accidentally make a mistake or do something that someone else disagrees with, their response to that may well deter you from coming back.”
Working together in an online environment
"When similar results emerged from a survey among the Hebrew Wikipedia editors' community, that community began to organize more meetings between editors. And they may have a point: we have never experienced a high-level conflict between two Wikipedia editors who have already met in person, at a workshop or conference. Getting to know each other offline seems to reduce the chances of both people getting involved in an online dispute,” mentions Rientjes.
The Wikipedia community has little to no hierarchy. Editors enjoy a high degree of anonymity and communication mainly happens online. Because of these factors, it is not always possible to ensure that all editors meet in person. Partly because of this, Wikimedia Netherlands looked for tools to structurally improve the mutual collaboration between the editors.
With the help of eCoachPro, Wikimedia Netherlands offered a group of interested editors a series of workshops and a pilot training course on online communication and collaboration, during which participants also received on-site coaching.
Online coaching platform for Wikipedia
When the pilot turned out to be a success, it was time to take the next step towards an e-learning program for all editors. Alexander Waringa, online psychologist at eCoachPro, elaborates on that process: "The goal was to motivate people and help them to collaborate constructively on the creation of Wikipedia pages. In order to investigate how we could design an effective program for the Dutch Wikipedia community, we conducted interviews among the editors and organized brainstorming sessions. This helped us successfully set up a program which offers a highly understandable, straight-forward and tangible learning process.
The program was to be made available online, ensuring the participants would be provided with sufficient anonymity. And so, a training program for Wikipedia was built within Pluform.com, eCoachPro ‘s own online coaching platform. The platform combines e-learning modules with online coaching. In the program, Wikipedia editors can gain more knowledge about behavioral development and further develop their communication and collaboration skills. The people who participated in the pilot training course, now offer additional guidance to new participants as Wikipedia Community e-Coaches.
The biggest challenge
Rientjes: "People had a lot of fun participating during the test phase and considered the training course to be of added value. Of course, we were also looking for the best way to bring the program to the attention of the entire Dutch-speaking Wikipedia community.”
Seeing as it is quite possible that the editors who are most interested in the program, already possess an excellent communication style, the real challenge lies in reaching the people who may get the most out of such a program. So how do you successfully encourage that specific group of people to complete the program from start to finish? "We are slowly introducing this program to editors by letting the news spread by word of mouth or by telling them about it when we meet at a conference or workshop," explains Rientjes. "In order to understand what works best, we are taking it one step at a time, for example by monitoring whether the current threshold to participate in the online program is not too high or too low. We are hoping that more and more people will complete the program on their own initiative.
From theory to Wiki practice
The focus of this e-learning program is to gain insight into and develop (online) communication skills. Information and exercises are used to highlight various aspects of online collaboration within a platform such as Wikipedia. A number of psychological and linguistic theories are linked to examples taken from Wikipedia. Through the combination of theory and practice, participants develop their online communication skills in a practical and applicable manner. Everyone can participate for free, and after completion, participants will receive the communication emblem.
Guidance at your fingertips
Research has shown that acquiring new skills online happens more effectively when an e-coach is supporting, contributing and motivating the participant, as opposed to traditional forms of e-learning, where no personal coach is involved. Therefore, participants can start this e-learning program on their own. Based on the results of the completed exercises, iRobin, the smart algorithm, determines how the program is to be completed. This approach is also called an adaptive learning path, meaning that the algorithm determines the order in which exercises, articles, and videos are offered to the participant.
If a participant is in need of even more personal guidance, they may call in the help of a (trained) online coach at any time. From that moment on, the participant is guided online in a more personal way towards completing the program. This is an innovative way of blending e-learning and e-coaching, with the biggest advantage that each individual participant is offered a tailor-made learning process.
"It would also be great if, at some point, this e-learning program could be implemented on a global level," says Rientjes. "Germany has already shown interest. Seeing as Wikipedia has more than 200 language editions and communities, we are aware of the many opportunities. The manners and rules may differ slightly from one community to another, but this e-learning program is already 90% ready to be used in other Wikipedia communities. It may very well be possible to adjust certain aspects of this program to ensure it suits the needs of each separate community.
eCoachPro’s leadership and behavioral experts are specialized in developing different types of interventions that realize behavioral change. Based on the company’s preference, a tailormade program is developed, from leadership programs to individual skills training.