Virtual Reality: First Thoughts on Online Training

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Clear Europe has just wrapped up an online training course on ‘Reporting the EU’ for young Czech journalists and students. The three-month programme was funded by the European Commission’s representation in Prague and co-organised with Transitions, a Prague-based non-profit aimed at strengthening the media in central and eastern Europe.

Despite many years of experience teaching journalism classes, this was my first foray into online training and I was nervous about its limitations – which makes the mainly positive feedback we received from participants all the more pleasing. One wrote: “That was a unique and greatly useful experience, and also very inspiring personally for me…what I received from the programme is simply priceless.” Another said she gained “valuable insight about writing and being a journalist.”

Praise is always pleasant. But criticism is much more useful. And there was plenty of that too. Participants said they would have liked more ‘offline’ classes and more interactivity. I can only agree. Despite all the hype about Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) I suspect the reality of most internet teaching is a trainer staring into his or her webcam at home trying to coax participants many miles away to join the conversation.

We used a relatively sophisticated platform – run by TechChange – and this enabled me to post course material beforehand, interact with participants on Google Hangouts, debate in the chat room and carry on the conversation in the ‘Forum’ afterwards. However, there were occasional technical glitches, conversations were rarely as free-flowing as in the flesh and keeping participants keen at 9pm after a long day studying or working was not always easy.

What many participants appreciated most about the course was the three-day trip to Brussels and the introductory and wrap-up sessions in Prague. Again, I share their point of view. Nothing will ever replace face-to-face interaction and seeing new places for real rather than online. But with travel expensive, people’s time limited and virtual interactivity easier than ever before, it is certain that online training will play a greater role in how we educate people in the future.


About Gareth Harding

Gareth is the Managing Director of Clear Europe and head of the Missouri School of Journalism's Brussels Programme. He is a former journalist, speechwriter and political advisor.

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