Learning skills is hard. Especially when students learn problem solving, not just rote performance.
Students need someone to help them when they get stuck. Since students get stuck on different things, they need one-on-one help. They need help in real-time, not through email and forums.
Students and their helpers need to interact efficiently. For example, when working on a programming exercise, the helper needs to be able to point at some code and say, “See that variable there? Is that the right one?” When working on a math exercise, the helper should be able to draw a curve, and say, “See that curve? Is that how your equation would look, or would it be different?”
Face-to-face may be the best way to interact. However, sometimes it’s too expensive to get people in the same room at the same time. Online interaction would probably be OK, as long as students and their helpers can talk to each other, and share appropriate tools (program editors, drawing tools, whatever is needed). Google Hangouts, Skype, Webex… there are many ways to do this. Text-only chat won’t be sufficient.
To sum up:
- Always have live helpers students can work with. For skills courses, anyway.
- Face-to-face, but online could work too, with the right tools.
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