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I'm a geek working as a distance learning specialist for a large corporation.

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Oprah’s Online Training – Part 3: The blog

I had the opportunity to visit the blog connected to Oprah’s “A New Earth” course on Eckhart Tolle’s book. I’ve been looking at this training experience over the last few weeks from the perspective of a corporate training professional. You can see my thoughts on the recorded sessions and the live sessions as well.

Something that is hard to get across to executives who see blogs as strictly online personal journals is how a blog can be used in a training setting. I’ve not found any good examples of blogs being used for corporate internal (or external, really) training either — probably because those blogs would be internally accessible and blocked from outside access, but I’ve also not seen much usage indicated in industry surveys, so I think blog usage in training is relatively small, unfortunately.

Oprah’s course is the first example I’ve seen of a blog being used for training purposes, so I finally have an example of at least one method of using a blog for training. The method they’ve chosen seems to be a “summarize the session” format, though it’s a bit early to tell how it’s going to go long term.

The good

  • They’re using a blog! The advantage of this over just a discussion board is focus and (hopefully) expertise – at least the way it’s being used here. While a discussion board has it’s strengths, a new reader can get overwhelmed with the number of new topics and responses potentially created at any given time, and it may not have an acknowledged expert participating in each thread. A blog has a focused “article” written by someone who has some involvement with the course, or at least subject matter. So a new user not only has a relatively linear path to follow, but a set of expert thoughts along that path.
  • They’re pulling some of the comments from previous entries to incorporate into subsequent posts. This is a key to involvement and investment of the student reading the blog. If there is no acknowledgement that the author is reading the comments, they run the risk of becoming faceless and uncaring in the student’s eyes. Using reader comments pulls the readers into a community where they’ll feel more like openly sharing because they’re involved in the conversation.
  • They keep the posts at a reasonable length. This is obviously subjective, but the longer the post, the fewer people will read the whole thing. Posts that are too short are meaningless. Finding that middle ground of covering the points you need to hit while not blathering on is hard to do.
  • The writing is conversational. Cold, impersonal writing, of the kind typically found in many training materials, frequently saps the energy from the material and makes it harder to read. People like to feel like they’re in a conversation, so they’ll typically pay closer attention to relaxed writing and will forgive a grammatical mistake here or there. (Won’t you?)
  • They are extending and expanding on the main points of the session being covered. This serves both to provide more ways to think about the material, and simply as a reminder of the main points.

The bad

  • Only one post a week? I’d like to see a little more reinforcement of the points than that. Not a whole lot more, but one more post a week would certainly be an improvement. Keep the conversation and reinforcement flowing.
  • No involvement in the comment threads. They pull some of the comments for the next post, as I said, but it would also be nice to hear from the expert mid-thread, just to let everyone know you’re invested. Especially if you’re only posting once a week. There’s no need to respond to every comment – that would be overkill once you pass a certain number of comments – but hit a couple every now and then.
  • Formatting is not used well. In fact, there is virtually no formatting in the posts beyond paragraph breaks. Don’t be afraid to use headings, bullets, italics, or something to help the reader scan the posts. This would be especially helpful for responding to comments – figure out some way to set off the quotes you’re pulling from the comments. Most blog software makes that automatic, so it’s not hard, and it’s disappointing they aren’t paying more attention to readability.
  • Use graphics. I fail miserably with this here, but the Oprah blog could benefit from something visual incorporated into the posts, too.
  • The title font should be bigger. This sounds kind of picky, I know, but the title should at least be the same font size as the body text. It appears as if the titles are a smaller font, but bolded, which throws me off when I’m scanning.

In all, I’d say they’re making a good effort, and hitting some important usage points, but there’s certainly room for improvement in some pretty simple areas.

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