I give a workshop in creating taxonomies in two formats, full-day in person and online. The question sometimes comes up from prospective participants as to the differences. Since a full-day onsite workshop is coming up soon, this would be a good time to address the similarities and differences.
Both workshops cover essentially the same content with a similar outline. Some of the examples are the same, and the participant exercises are the same, too. The workshops address the same diverse audience, comprising the range from quick-learning beginner who has at least a background in information science to someone already experienced in creating taxonomies but within a limited context and seeks to broaden those skills to more applications. In both kinds of workshops, the audience is also diverse in its professional backgrounds: librarians, corporate content managers and knowledge managers, indexers, web usability professionals and information architects; from industry, academia, nonprofits, and independent professionals. With such a wide diversity of backgrounds, the online workshop seems to resonate a little better with participants, none of whom then feels like a minority in a classroom of other types.
There is an organizational difference, whereby the outline of the onsite PowerPoint-based workshop has 10 topics, and online workshop comprises 5 weekly lessons: (1) an introduction of examples and applications, (2) software for creating taxonomies, (3) hierarchical and associative relationships, (4) preferred term wording and nonpreferred terms, and (5) miscellaneous topics of project processes, governance, folksonomies, and taxonomy jobs. Two onsite workshop topics may be covered in one weekly online lesson, although the onsite workshop does have the additional topics of the sources for terms and the comparison hierarchical taxonomies with alphabetical indexes (when presented as a pre-conference workshop for the American Society for Indexing). The order of topics is also different. The online workshop introduces software earlier on, so students have the option of using trial software to apply principles learned in later lessons.
The use of software is a significant difference in both workshops. In the onsite workshop, I give demos of Synaptica and Data Harmony Thesaurus Master, both web-based, and the PC software MultiTes. In the online workshop, participants access the demo software themselves, with the additional option to download the trial Mac software of Cognatrix (which I don’t demonstrate in my onsite workshop, since I don’t use a Mac.) Obviously, you can learn more when you try out the software yourself. Trial versions of MultiTes and Cognatrix are available to the public, but trials to Synaptica and Data Harmony are not and are made available by special arrangement for students of the workshop.
Q&A is more dynamic and engaging in the classroom setting. Although the online workshop has discussion forums, there is no simultaneous chat. Although the technology is there, the problem is that for a continuing education workshop this is in addition to everyone’s full time job and personal life. Spread out over different time zones too, it would be too difficult to get an agreeable time of day to chat. In the classroom it’s easier and less inhibiting to raise a question or make a comment. Online, it’s in writing, permanent for the duration of the course, and your name is attached to it. Thus, the online discussion of the workshop has usually been less than optimal.
Then there are the obvious differences. Some people learn better by listening to a speaker, and some people learn better by reading texts on their own. Convenience of location and timing will also make a difference. The onsite workshop is usually offered only once a year (although a customized corporate onsite version is an option), whereas the online workshop is offered every other month and is accessible by Internet globally. However, the latter tends to fill up 2-3 months in advance, and the onsite workshop usually has room for same-day registrations (at a higher cost).