Publish at March 17 2020 Updated July 20 2022

Carrying out a distance learning course in a few days... but how?

Fundamentals, pedagogy and positioning

The progression of the Covid-19 epidemic once thought to be linear is proving to be exponential. With minimal time, and to meet containment constraints, instructors and teachers must adapt their courses for distance learning. How can they do this? We interviewed two specialists, Christine Vaufrey and Jean Vanderspelden, to give some advice to those who would rush into it without being accustomed to e-learning, and to the others.

Christine Vaufrey is the director and creator of Pimenko, which accompanies training organizations in their digitalization strategy. She is also behind the first French-speaking mooc, Itypa (Internet, tout y est pour apprendre), in 2012 and has been the pedagogical manager of many cultural moocs.

Jean Vanderspelden is Consultant "Apprenance, FOAD/AFEST, Numérique & Territoires" at ITG Paris. He is a member of the French forum of digital training actors, of the cercle APE ("Learning together"), of LearningSphere.

They agreed to answer me, also in a hurry, on the options that a training center pushed by circumstances to accelerate its digital strategy could have.

Let's not forget the fundamentals!"

Providing a response in terms of distance learning is essential. But it is not a matter of dumping all its resources on a platform or "occupying" the trainees while waiting for it to pass.

"Be careful, bringing distance training should not make us forget the fundamentals. The pedagogical relationship must be maintained, continued and strengthened, while being adapted. In presence or at a distance, this relationship will always be nourished by both benevolence, listening, help, follow-up, requirement, trust and valorization."

warns us Jean Vanderspelden.

Jean Vanderspelden insists on the necessary human accompaniment. In France, the decree on FOAD (FOrmation tout ou en partie A Distance) reminds us that without a double "assistance" technical and pedagogical, an action cannot be retained as a training action.

The issue of support remains central to the quality of distance devices, with consequent attention paid to the ratio between the number of learners involved and the human resources providing follow-up.

The importance of the framework

"A mix of transmissive pedagogy (focused on content) and active pedagogy (based on learners' activities) can make forced distance learning meaningful," explains Jean Vanderspelden.

He mentions an experience where he used pedagogical sheets designed according to the 4 Cs rule. Each sheet gathers four types of information: those concerning the Cframework of the situation, Cinstructions, Cadvice and finally, to facilitate the use of the associated digital tools, useful technical information of the "Chow does it work?" type.

For Christine Vaufrey, the framework is "the major data". It is even more so if the situation is unusual, in an anxiety-provoking context. "This is what will give all its credibility to online training and help trainees get organized. Nothing is worse than 'do as you please and see you on Friday to see what you've learned. In a situation like this, staying as close as possible to the framework of the in-person training (schedules, program...) is essential."

In communicating with trainees, the Pimenko manager tells us, it is necessary to reassure: "there are solutions, we're ready, we're going to be in contact every day. We have to explain that it won't be quite the same, that we'll lose on some aspects but gain on others."

What framework for the training?

"The platform seems to me to be indispensable. This is the time to make the most of it," Christine Vaufrey tells us. The platform is the metaphor of the training center. Of course, we can use another space, but it will probably be less well equipped, as if we were organizing the training in a bistro rather than in a dedicated center!"

Christine Vaufrey gives us another valuable piece of advice: "Above all, follow the connections. It shows that the educational team is there and that we expect the participants to be there too!"

But not all training centers are equipped and, in an emergency context, appropriating the use of a platform while transferring one's training onto digital media in a short time is tricky. Especially since in a crisis situation, learners and employers must be informed and reassured at the same time. We might as well start light.

Jean Vanderspelden proposes three solutions depending on the center's equipment and digital mastery. He imagines a scenario where the instructions would arrive gradually.

"In an established course, each learner would become aware of the succession of expected work via the cadenced and adjusted receipt of .pdf sheets. This could be as simple as sending them by email! We can also consider a distribution via Digital Social Networks or, for higher cohorts, the use of a Tele-training Platform (LMS)."

On this subject, we had mentioned some time ago the Mooc on agile methods that worked directly on Trello, without a specific platform. Jean Vanderspelden confirms that tools like Trello, Slack or Whatsapp can be relevant answers.

"In all honesty, colleagues who are moving slowly on digital, keep it simple. Don't get into visio and anything else that will take an impossible flow. Use your online textbook, send pdfs or links, then corrections," warns Cyril Mistrorigo, a teacher at a French middle school on Twitter.

What are the pedagogical principles?

Diversify interactions

The pedagogical team must remain present. The virtual classroom is the major tool for quickly designing synchronous training activities. Roughly speaking, we build on what we do in person, but we do it remotely. "At the beginning, it will mess up severely," Christine Vaufrey warns us, "but quickly the good practices will come."

"This logic of putting in activity between "learners & teachers or trainers", but also between learners (pairagogy) cannot last sustainably without a valorization and a diversification of interactions" insists Jean Vanderspelden. The better I interact the better I train! The Internet "territory" is going to give us the opportunity to establish digital proximity around two generic types of interactions: those related to production and those that allow evaluation.

But Christine Vaufrey warns us, wanting to create "a learning community" could prove to be a bad idea.

"Learning together, collaboratively, is learned. You can't force that on people if it's not part of the learning program. If, however, some people want to get together virtually to learn, we encourage them by making tools and spaces available to them on the platform or outside, and by organizing sessions with them, for example once a week."

Many teachers who share their experience of virtual classrooms also insist on the pace of the activities and maintaining attention. An activity that takes an hour in class may take less time remotely. But more importantly, it may tire more quickly.

Video and the use of a webcam are pluses, but it is above all the fact of proposing activities at a regular pace that will be able to prevent minds from slipping away.

Maryse Morin, trainer at Gefor, an adult training center located in Paris, draws our attention to the fact that trainees connect from home. So there is a wholeenvironment to consider.

For example, they sometimes have their children nearby due to school closures. In addition to the instructions to avoid parasite applications (social networks, streaming ...) remain open in parallel, it suggests activities for children. They can, for example, illustrate the theme their parents are working on, and share the productions on the collaborative space of the training in the form of a challenge.

Two digital tools to create interactions

Based on his experience, Jean Vanderspelden advises us to use two digital tools.

  • The first one carries the Wiki function: Framapad. It allows to collect and value the quality of the answers given to the questions asked. It also encourages learners to ask new questions in turn, all published in a collaborative space and therefore shared.

  • The second is the creation and use of online forms: Framaform. With this tool, self-assessment, formative & certifying evaluation activities are installed throughout the course and contribute to regulate it. This organization also makes it possible to attest to the reality and relevance of distance learning courses of the ODL type.

Unfortunately, with the Coronavirus crisis of March 2020, the use of Framatalk was multiplied by eight overnight, while its servers were not prepared for it. Framasoft encouraged users on March 11 to turn to other solutions, such as Jitsi.

Due to exceptional bandwidth and online application demands, tensions of this kind are to be expected, especially since home confinement will inevitably lead to more online video via the most famous platforms... Among the lessons to be learned from this crisis, we will have to ask the question of government support for free and non-commercial solutions, such as those implemented by Framasoft.

Whatever solutions are chosen, Jean Vanderspelden advises to rely on another fruitful rule of the four C's: Communication, Collaboration, Creativity & Critical Mind. Keeping them in mind will undoubtedly be able to inspire the design of the pedagogical flow of training sequences.

Spaces for listening and exchange

"Encourage synchronous relationships with learners, whenever possible," Jean Vanderspelden stresses. To do this, he organizes individual synchronous interactions (in flexible time) with a Skype-type "Videophony" tool and collective interactions (in constrained time) with a Quebec-based "Virtual Classroom" tool (Classilio Via2) or with Framatalk. These exchanges punctuate the courses by opening up spaces for listening and exchange that are essential to maintain motivation and consolidate the involvement of each learner.

A coherent positioning

In building solutions in a hurry, the training center could leave its specificity there. It would occupy training hours, fulfill its part of the contract, but leave a tarnished image once the crisis is over. Trainees would retain the laborious experience of a quickly cobbled-together training, forgetting the conditions of production of that training...

Christine Vaufrey encourages us to consolidate the strengths of the training center, what it is known for. "If it's for the quality of the individual coaching, for example, I have to increase the number of phone or video interviews. If it's for my original use of edutainment, I'm going to focus on gamification (challenges, courses with bridges, etc.). If it's the quality of my speakers, all of whom come from the professional world, I'm going to use them in virtual classes and multiply the videos of real situations. And conversely, you don't just randomly and madly go into something you've never done, animation video for example, or that doesn't look like you."

Illustrations: Frédéric Duriez


Pimenko - company website and blog:

Jean Vanderspelden's site:

Jean Vanderspelden
Social Media as a Learning Environment - accessed March 14, 2020 -

FFOD Multimodal Training Guide -

Complements for Teachers

Connected School Audrey Miller, Maryline Barrette-Dubé- Teaching at a Distance with Force Majeure - ideas and resources posted online March 13, 2020, accessed March 14, 2020

Twitter accounts to follow educational continuity experiments: - Teacher Charlotte - Marie Soulié - Fidel Navamuel

Education through Research - Digital Conversion in Schools II - educational video directory - Directory-of-work-a-distance-collaboration-organization-support

Classilio -

Framasoft -

On distance learning
Denis Cristol - 14 ways to design e-learning - updated October 28, 2019

PY Gomez, A Rousseau & I Vandangeon Derumez "Distance & Proximity: Sketching a Problem for Organizations" - -

See more articles by this author




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