Posted by: Gillian | November 24, 2008

e-Guidance, careers and finding courses

Does e-guidance work as well as face-to-face?  That is the question posed over here.  It’s a fair question but what’s the yardstick?  Has anyone measured the general ‘effectiveness’ of  face-to-face guidance and how was it defined?  Effectiveness is a huge question.

Working on the basis that no-one can know what courses or careers may be available in ten years time (sometimes, less than that), guidance given now is always going to be a mix of the purely practical, personal perception of the current enquirer preferences and, in the best cases, a bit of carefully phrased socio-economic forecasting.

Some of those seeking guidance really need to ‘see’ someone.  If within reach of a great source of knowledge and information, that – obviously – is great.  However, many people do not have easy face-to-face access with the right sort of expert or find conversation difficult or, in extreme cases, may even be prohibited from making such contact.  That is where the internet is useful.

Misunderstandings can and do occur in the first contact – just as is the case with walk-ins in a career counsellor’s office.

If the entire exchange is by email, it may take some time to unpick the query.  Both the one providing guidance and the enquirer need patience.  The guiding person needs skill and experience to rephrase the question(s) and get to the heart of the prolem as quickly as possible.

If the exchange can be switched to instant message/chat with the potential for an internet phone call or even a mini web-conference, there is the possibility of reaching more people and allowing both parties the option of reflection time without adding another bus fare or similar cost.  Skype is readily available and allows both IM and (video) phone calls.  Elluminate vRoom allows one-one sharing of files, real-time video, audio, use of emoticons.  In both cases, all elements are optional.

Skype and the professional versions of Elluminate allow one or both parties to save the communications and this is a huge practical advantage over face-to-face chat.  That post-communication flashback and reflective, ‘Um, did he mean…’ or ‘Was that the right word?’ can be – literally – replayed.  Clarification can be sought and the conversation moved on.

There is also the advantage that the  immediate or ongoing contextual distractions of participants in each of these exchanges is masked by the medium.  Unless either party wishes to show it, there are no more heads popping around doors for, ‘Sorry to interrupt but just a quick question…’ .  Equally, there is no need for the enquirer to give a ‘required’ response to the counsellor when what they really want to do is check a dictionary/ask Dad/speak to HR, etc.  The medium of the internet allows immediacy but forgives interruption.  It may, therefore, be a more effective route to finding whatever the enquirer would consider an ‘effective’ learning or career interview outcome.

Costing such services is, however, complex.  Face-to-face guidance in universities is usually ‘free’, with the cost hidden in the enrolment fee, whereas independent guidance is usually paid by the hour, much as one pays for the dentist or other professional services.  Online, there is a pervasive perception that ‘the internet’ and, especially, learning on the internet, is free.  There is also the visible measure that an expert was only online for X minutes/seconds.  Online office hours on-campus are clear blocks of time that require student travel and (implicitly) understand that the expert had to get there somehow.  The on-campus expert also has visible his/her status and consequent other requirements on time.  A big building or campus also suggests the effort that has gone into acquiring the knowledge that is to be passed on.  The internet expert, on the other hand, is hampered by the perception that they may be in their PJs and somehow using the internet to stay half a sentence ahead.  That perception is probably grossly unfair and there is no way it allows for the professional contact database, the years of experience and the currency of research of the effective online counsellor.

The relative ‘effectiveness’ of either face-to-face or online guidance can only start to be judged if both routes are costed and paid for on an equitable basis and the outcomes measured over several years.  That’s a difficult piece of research to carry out.  Perhaps, in the interests of helping learners, professional judgment in selecting guidance methodology and the results of that guidance are best left unmeasured?


  1. Very interesting! I wonder if you’re right that the expertise and knowledge of the careers guidance professional might be called into question in online interactions. We already use web chats quite actively here at Manchester and haven’t seen this as being a problem so far.

    Haven’t come across Elluminate before. What do you think are the advantages of that over Skype?

  2. Hi. Great to see you. Just to clarify: I am not questioning in-university guidance (online or other). It’s great to hear Manchester is happy. The question is: what happens for open e-guidance? The sort that happens when people could go anywhere, do anything, have not a clue. That brings in a myriad of other players.

    As for Elluminate: I repeat, I’m no agent but it just works. I’ll send you a note separately.

  3. Hi,
    The points you make Gillian, are highly relevant and thought-provoking – thank you.
    Analysing effectiveness should, I believe, be an ongoing activity – we cannot afford (in any sense of the word) to become static.
    As often is the case, the question of staff being adaptable and equipped with the relevant tools is crucial.

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