The suspension of world travel for a seasoned financial modelling instructor is a shock to the system. For nearly eight years I’ve been teaching in all five continents: from Belgium to Brisbane.
But I’m not waiting for the world to go back to normal (whatever normal means).
And that’s because teaching financial modelling live online from home has been remarkable. And remarkable not because of what I’ve taught, but because of what I’ve learned from those I have taught.
Here are five things that I’ve been taught during live online courses by the people I’ve been teaching.
1. A course participant has far greater choice over how they engage with the course. Instructors in the physical classroom exert an enormous amount of control and influence over those with whom they are working. The traditional “model along with me” approach is intensive, immersive and has a big emphasis on action.
The challenge for a course participant is to find enough time to think as they work at the instructor’s speed. However much I adjust my teaching tempo, there remains a risk that someone will say: I am struggling to do both. I am struggling to complete the mechanical operations and think about what I am doing.
When teaching live online, the additional barriers between instructor and you, the participant, appear substantial compared with the physical classroom. But that places far more control with you. In F1F9 courses, we encourage people to interrupt the instructor during the formal sessions (which typically last 45 minutes to an hour) to build that sense of participant-control.
Since the formal sessions are by their nature distanced, there is more time for participant reflection. There is plenty of time to have a go at the mechanical operations once the formal session is completed. Or at the end of the day. Or at the weekend.
For the participant, there is much more choice in how they engage. If courses run in the physical classroom are a feast, then live online training is a buffet.
2. Synchronous learning is replaced with asynchronous learning. So if you are now in control of your learning, how should you best make use of that control?
I’ve seen different approaches, but the effective ones make good use of the distinction between learning that happens in time with the formal teaching sessions (I’m going to call that “synchronous learning”) and learning that happens outside the formal teaching sessions (“asynchronous learning”).
Examples of asynchronous learning include:
- watching recordings of the formal sessions as an aide-memoire. We record all of our formal sessions and make them immediately available on F1F9’s online forum
- re-modelling the content of the formal session and submitting work for review
- undertaking new modelling to test what has just been learned and submitting work for review
- reflecting on key concepts and raising questions with the instructor informally (we encourage you to connect with instructors between as well as during sessions)
These approaches to learning are possible in the physical classroom but there are many more effective variants available to you with live online training.
3. There is much more time for reflection; there is much more time for distraction. The flip side of asynchronous learning is the risk of distraction. Reflecting on what you have just learned can be a wonderful thing, but not if it is disturbed by phone calls or emails.
“I’m on a training course” is often an invitation for colleagues to assume that you can be disturbed. That’s just as much a problem in the physical classroom as it is with live online courses. Arguably it’s a worse problem with live online: by being connected to the virtual classroom you are, by necessity, connected to the entire virtual world. And therefore can be disturbed by any single member of the entire virtual world.
But the disturbances can be better managed. It is far easier to connect back in with the live online world for two simple reasons:
- everything taught live is also recorded; and
- continuous teaching is replaced with teaching in chunks.
Teaching in chunks is just not possible with in-person training courses. The economics do not allow it. F1F9 live online courses have formal sessions spaced out during the day, and course dates scheduled to allow a free day or two between them.
4. Things get exciting when I hand over screen control. On a traditional training course, it’s rare for me to offer up my laptop – from which I teach – to anyone other than a trusted teaching assistant.
On occasion, I will invite a participant to hook up their laptop to the projector so that we might resolve a balance sheet error, for example. I joke that with our standardised approach to modelling, the most difficult challenge involved in resolving the error should be getting a picture on the screen from the new laptop.
With live online training, sharing screens is easy. And when you put your own financial model up in front of everyone else, suddenly it gets personal. The level of commitment and engagement goes up. I can feel it.
Even more engaging is when I hand over screen control to a participant and ask them to do something to my model. It’s a great test of someone’s confidence in running those mechanical operations that are fundamental to fluent modelling (and which we cover in our free online courses Excel Proficiency Skills and Model Construction Skills).
5. Assessment is important, but not as important as self-assessment. Our main system of assessment in the physical classroom is based on seeing what’s happening on participants’ laptop screens.
With live online training, we review models that participants submit after their formal teaching sessions. This is a very good way of assessing learning. It’s a quick process to review coding, raise issues and prepare feedback.
Each subsequent formal teaching session begins with a review of assignments sent through. And it is a great thrill to see improvement layered on improvement as each new assignment comes in.
But no amount of formal assessment is as valuable as you saying to yourself “I think I am ready to move on”. That’s the main goal of giving feedback on assignments: to give encouragement where it is due and allow you to feel that you have achieved something from independent work that you otherwise would not have achieved.
When the world determines its new normal and physical classrooms become a possibility once more, F1F9 will return to running up-close-and-personal financial modelling courses. But we won’t run them in quite the same way. The experience of tutor-led distance learning has influenced our teaching philosophy.
And live online training won’t go away either. We will continue running courses this way – they work too well for us to abandon them.
So if you’re thinking about financial modelling training, have a look at our live online dates. And if you don’t see dates that are right for your timezone, let us know – we’ll do our best to add some.