The rise of the online training instructor

Is there still a place for the live classroom training instructor?

In this Information Age, with Internet technology, instant communication, and tools such as Skype, a correctional trainer must wonder at times if there is a place for the more traditional training methods such as the live classroom instructor.

Please do not misunderstand me; I am all for new methods of training. In 2013, I conducted my first Skype class for a group of New York prison librarians. We discussed manipulation by inmates, and through the magic of the Internet, it was as if I was in the classroom. We engaged in discussions and I answered questions over hundreds of miles.

Many corrections agencies find it convenient to have staff take online classes. I understand. Online classes can be taken from any computer or iPad, the trainee does not have to travel, and, in many cases, can take the class on the job or from home.  Required training hours are met.

AP Photo/Charlie Riedel

What I’m saying is that the online methods of training have their positive attributes, but so does the classroom method with a live instructor. Some live instruction can be presented via the Internet, including Skype. In a simple, basic online class you get information and can answer required test questions for passing. In some subjects, such as signs of suicidal behavior, symptoms can be listed along with facts from studies of suicidal inmates. Another subject is legal updates; new statutes can be included in on line classes.

But what about other subjects?

Some subjects in corrections are somewhat more involved. I teach a few where I want the class to openly engage in discussions based on their experience and the experience of the instructor. Manipulation would be one; maintaining boundaries with inmates. How about a class about positive interpersonal communications with inmates? Much could be talked about and learned live, rather than on a computer screen.

Another could be stress management. Corrections veterans, live in the classroom or over the Internet, can frankly discuss stress, especially if they learned how to manage it throughout their careers. In these types of classes, the instructor brings his or her experience into the classroom, along with quizzes, scenarios and role play. He or she can discuss how they, in their careers, handled different types of inmates, staff and difficult situations. This does not mean that the proverbial ‘war story’ is the curriculum -- but the war story is used judiciously to back up the material.

To sum up: Online training is convenient, time-effective and is less of a ‘hassle’ for the agency than sending people to a local academy. But never rule out the live instructor. A live instructor online or in a classroom brings life experience and advice to the class better than any simple computer screen.

As 2015 unfolds, hopefully many correctional agencies will find that there is room enough in correctional training for both.

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