Like coaching and leadership development, e-learning too seems to be a nice-to-have inclusion in the talent management list of most organizations. What really remains to be seen is whether it plays the role it is meant to, or is a mere topping on the learning and development pizza!
The basic intention behind e-learning or any technology-based training is to provide a self-paced and personalized learning option to people where they do not need to worry about being slower or faster as compared to other participants of a training program. E-Learning as an option is extremely attractive as it helps organizations cut down the cost of trainers, infrastructure, and other overheads such as travel and hotel costs. However the core purpose or primary goal of the training still needs to remain the same. By the end of the training, the participant should have acquired the skill.
Discontent about content
What was meant to be an exercise in making people happy, sadly ended up being a pain pill. Today we have tons and tons of content shoved into an electronic format with a few navigational buttons and a no-brainer “duh!” quiz, all in the garb of e-learning. The participants (I will not call them learners) are mandated to complete these hundred pages, without which they will not be considered certified for that skill. The makers of the e-learning aren’t happy either. The instructional designers or content writers have to go through a truckload of material and chase subject matter experts before they can extract the “necessary” amount of content for the course. Designers and developers have their own set of woes as they have the daunting task of beautifying the pages, and mass producing and packaging it all together as one unit. It’s like producing an expensive blockbuster sci-fi with a poor script. Neither the production unit, nor the audience is content with the end result!
Here’s an interview by the brilliant Cathy Moore where she says, “…a lot of e-learning uses passive information presentation (or information “dump”), where the amount of cognitive involvement on the part of the learner is nil. You might have quiz questions that ask you to remember what you saw just one screen ago — just testing short-term memory.” Well, she just summed it up!
All roads do not lead to e-Learning
Just as an OTC painkiller cannot be the only medication for every ailment, e-learning too cannot be the only mode of learning. As an L&D consultant, when would you propose e-learning as the learning methodology for your clients? As the HR training head or business leader, when would you identify e-learning as the mode for driving skills within your organization? Here are some of the situations where e-learning makes sense:
- Introduction to a concept, solution, policy, or product
- Demonstration of a technical task such as demonstrating the use of the VLOOKUP function in Microsoft Excel or logging into a website
- Reinforcement of previously taught skills or practices such as cross-cultural or teleconferencing etiquette, listening skills and so on
- Familiarizing end users of a software solution or product with the user interface and a few basic steps
These are just a few situations. Simply put, e-Learning as a learning methodology makes sense when the learner is expected to gain concrete knowledge or information. That said, a comprehensive audience analysis helps while designing the e-learning, especially when you have a multi-generation workforce.
Making e-learning work
How can we make our people willing participants to e-learning? With so much technology and social networking at our disposal, creating e-learning is no longer difficult. Nonetheless, e-learning in most corporate setups continues to be an arduous chore. Hey, even I’m guilty of wanting to fast-forward some of the courses and hoping they were shorter and more relevant!
Here are few ways we could make e-learning effective and attractive to employees.
Avoid content overkill
It is important to prioritize the learning objectives to help us distinguish between content that is directly connected to the objectives, and information that is nice-to-know. It isn’t necessary to dump all available content into e-learning. You could always maintain a reference document with nice-to-know information for those who are interested. An e-learning course is effective and attractive when it is short and relevant. A 30-minute course? Good. A 15-minute one? Now you’re talking!
E-Book versus e-Learning
Knowledge that is available in the form of books or presentations, are actually reference materials and not e-learning. Remember the purpose of training is to indoctrinate measurable skills. If it is e-Learning, it has to be short, interactive, and test understanding of the concepts. Otherwise it is just an e-book or a slide deck!
Make it fun and meaningful
I’ve endured e-learning loaded with animations and graphics that rather than interesting me, have made me impatient. Relevance and context are very important to e-learning. Introducing rich media is tricky and you need to get it right. The script and treatment will always be king, so always invest in the right development team that puts the learner before everything else. Instructional designers and content developers must go through e-learning themselves to understand what the learner goes through. Another key aspect is personalizing the learning content. Although e-learning is intended to be delivered to a large audience, it should be written in a way where the learner feels it addresses him as an individual. As the instructional writer, if you can bring in the emotional connect to the learner, you’ve got it.
Make it generation-friendly
It’s a well-known fact amongst learning and development professionals that different generations respond to e-learning differently. Most of the instructional design analysis focuses on the objectives and content and leave out the audience and their learning behaviours in the equation. Instead, if we could present the content in a way that it becomes appealing and approachable, we will have better participation and buy-in.
People all over the world book their movie tickets via their smartphones and here we have some companies implementing e-learning courses that look like chronicles! If I want to learn more about ALS, would I take a two-hour e-learning course organized as lessons, topics, pages, or Google “ALS” to know more? Google, Wikipedia, YouTube, LinkedIn, Facebook – all are great digital platforms for learning.
For software products, we could embed e-learning videos or simulations as part of the application Help feature. We could even build a learning cloud for trainers, subject-matter experts, and learners where people could either upload or download short e-learning capsules using their PCs, tablets, or smartphones. Besides sharing talent, knowledge and expertise, this is a great way of exploiting technology for the benefit of the learning community.
Google Glass sounds like a highly promising and path-breaking technology where learning is integrated to the actual work and you learn while performing the task. A lot is being written and said about it, and I’m very excited about its positioning and prospects in this digital era. Imagine that you want to know how to use a new equipment on your factory floor. Instead of attending a training program, or waiting for someone to show you how to use it, you and your trainer can use Google Glass where she could demonstrate the use of the equipment on the go in real time. The benefits of this are many-fold. Not only is the training contextual and relevant, it also makes the employee productive from day one.
Real learning is blended!
There are many methodologies and ways of imparting skills and depending on the audience and the subject, each technique is irreplaceable. Google Glass may help me learn the new application at my desk, but a classroom training enables me to meet other participants face-to-face and connect emotionally. As a new manager, I might learn how to use a new reporting tool by watching a video, but I would still need a mentor who can advise me on how I could assess my employees during their appraisal. As a customer service rep I might go through an e-learning video to learn how to log cases using the new CRM tool, but a group discussion with other reps would still be the preferred way to share and learn new ways to improve customer satisfaction.
While learning content, methodologies, or delivery mechanisms are extremely critical in delivering effective learning, what is of paramount importance is aligning individual needs with functional business and organizational goals.