e-Learning Comes Of Age

The Camp Across The Lake

This past summer, the staff at Camp Inthedark trickled in–most without a clue about playing games, leading children, managing difficult behavior or becoming youth development professionals. The director tried valiantly to cram dozens of counseling skills, scores of rules, hundreds of accreditation standards and even a few camp songs into five short days. While the camp seemed to run well, it did not provide an optimal experience for the boys and girls who attended. There was acute homesickness, out-of-control hyperactivity, behind-the-scenes bullying and harsh discipline. At mid-season, many of the staff felt burned out because they lacked the tools to perform their jobs skillfully.

Meanwhile, across the lake at Camp Ontheball, things were completely different. All of the staff–both new and returning, domestic and international, day and resident–had participated in online training workshops in the months prior to arriving for staff training week. They learned about leadership, play, mental health, supervision, social skills, conflict resolution and child development. The directors then took this confident group–all of whom had a solid foundation in camp counseling–and provided in-depth training on key issues specific to their camp.

During the season, children at Camp Ontheball brought the same emotional, cognitive and behavioral challenges as the children did at Camp Inthedark. But from day one, the staff at Ontheball embraced these challenges. Simply put, they knew what to do. From opening day to closing day, they remained poised, controlled and effective leaders. As a result, the campers at Ontheball made more friends and had a better time than the boys and girls at Inthedark. Not surprisingly, the 2009 return rates for campers and staff at Camp Ontheball are already setting records.

The Half-Day Difference

Although the Ontheball staff spent only four or five hours engaged in pre-season online learning, the advanced preparation made a world of difference for everyone. Staff members arrived for training week sure of themselves and possessed the perfect balance of playfulness and professionalism. As an added bonus, the camp’s insurance company praised Ontheball for reducing the risks associated with a poorly trained staff. The modest per-staff cost for the online training may have paid for itself in reduced claims. Best of all, the staff could access the online training on its own time–from anywhere in the world–and the directors could track the staff’s participation and progress in the program from the office computer.

Better, Faster, Stronger

Although some camps have been delivering excellent low-tech staff training for a century, the pre-season online training scenario at Camp Ontheball represents a qualitative and quantitative improvement. Yet it would have been impossible just a decade ago. In the late 1990s, many people still had dial-up modems to access the Internet, streaming video was an emerging technology, and most camp directors were just discovering the online world. Back in the day, “high-tech” staff training meant playing a DVD in the dining hall, while half the staff snoozed, still recovering from mental and physical transition from spring break to camp.

Today, Internet connection speeds are faster than ever, streaming media is an online staple, and nearly every camp director can navigate the Web. The world of blogging, tagging and social networking–dubbed Web 2.0–is here. The staff you hire for next summer is used to learning things in short multimedia bursts, much like a YouTube video.

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