e-Learning--The next generation is powerful and promising

By Travis Allison

Managing the care of campers and the liability risks in the industry means that today's summer-camp staff must know more than ever about behavior management, leadership, safety, youth development, and supervision. Skilled risk managers must be able to prove to an insurer that the proper training was provided and that each staff member had a solid grasp of all of the essential requirements of their job.

Playing games and singing songs are only a minuscule part of being a modern summer-camp professional. While there are higher standards for youth leadership today, there are still only 24 hours in a day, and most directors have their staff on-site for 6 days or fewer prior to opening day.

The Technology Training Advantage
Since 2008, the technology available for pre-arrival, off-site training has come a long way. The most obvious difference is the existence of a high-powered computer in almost every pocket.

Smart phones, super-fast cellular, and Wi-Fi connections mean that camp counselors and group leaders no longer need to be tied to a desk for training. They can watch on a tablet in any room in the house, or even watch or listen to training lessons in transit or in a quiet place.

Thanks to the normalcy of social networks, learners are used to absorbing lessons wherever they go. Nearly half of all college students have taken at least one class completely online. Couple that with the fact that the average college student logs 4 or more hours of screen time per day, and it becomes abundantly clear how natural it is to create a staff-training classroom anywhere.

Creating Online Training
Setting up online training for camp staff can be accomplished in a variety of ways. The price starts at zero and goes up. Like almost anything, items or experiences that are paid for typically have many extra features (testing, score-sharing, communications/chat modules). Directors should be wary of the idea that “because I didn't pay for it, it doesn't cost anything.” Camp directors and youth leaders need to learn early in their careers the value of their time. Spending days creating online training and testing a homemade learning-management system may mean that a “free” system has a substantial hidden cost.

Although it's a daunting task, summer camps can create their own effective online training. YouTube, Vimeo, Facebook Video, Slideshare, and even Instagram and Vine can be great tools for teaching. Sharing leadership techniques, songs, stories, and scenes from camp with staff members will help form a virtual community in advance of the bonding that occurs during on-site training.

Indeed, the idea of 15-second Instagram videos for lessons on the many tasks staff members are required to do has amazing potential. Imagine mini-videos that demonstrate how to set a table properly, perform a camper roll-call, complete a cabin cleanup, or fold a flag.

For those considering video bits to help train staff members, keep these points in mind:

Keep videos short. Try to limit them to 10 minutes each. This helps keep people's attention and forces you—the host—to highlight the most important aspects of the lesson. For especially complex topics, consider producing a two-part series, where each video is still only 10 minutes long.

Remember that the web is a visual medium. Great images and well-edited video will keep participants’ attention. Video is always more engaging than a narrated slideshow. If slides are a must, include pictures and only a short text. Remember, viewers can read faster than you can talk, so keep the word-count low.

Be engaging. Avoid filling a PowerPoint presentation with bullet points and then reading them. This “death-by-PowerPoint” is not quite as bad as standing in the main lodge and reading to staff members from a manual … but it’s close.

Focus on audio quality. If people can't hear the lesson, they will not complete it.  Invest in a USB microphone and record the lesson in a quiet room. Or, to record live actors, use a high-quality boom mic or lav mic. The most common downfall of amateur video is actually not the video but the poor audio quality.

Test the lessons. One of the advantages of a subscription learning-management system (LMS) is the ability to track which staff members have watched which video training modules and when. Those directors producing home-made videos will need to create an online test for each lesson. Remember that many accreditation standards require documentation of participation and learning.

The Future
There is little doubt that the modern generation of “digital native” learners will come to expect online training to perform their jobs. As the requirements of the work have grown, summer camps have been forced to provide more training than there is time to complete on-site. In fact, the entire notion of “staff training week” is already outdated. In its place will be a comprehensive, multidisciplinary “staff-training program” that includes all types of online training, web-based courses, and custom content distributed by the camps themselves in the months prior to a thoughtfully designed on-site training. Those camps that strive for forming excellent staff members will have to become exemplary at training. And in the end, what could be better for the young people we serve? That’s a bright future, indeed.

Travis Allison is a professional speaker and summer camp consultant. Reach him at travis@camphacker.tv.