The world of e-learning development is moving at a fast pace, with gamification taking centre stage and its predicted use moving us beyond learning into solutions tools, using wearable technology for learning, something I’ve written about in the past but is hitting the headlines again, and Artificial Intelligence systems being used to provide a framework for personalised learning. However, there is still a large proportion of organisations and individuals that have still not engaged with any form of e-learning. Is this because of a lack of awareness of the benefits of e-learning, reluctance to move away from traditional delivery methods, or perhaps a lack of confidence to embrace technology for learning and development? Frequently we hear that “e-learning doesn’t work in my industry” or “e-learning is a poor substitute for face to face training”, but when questioned these statements often come from those who don’t like the idea of it, haven’t actually tried it or have had a bad experience of some form of e-learning.
There are without doubt poor examples of e-learning, just as there are poor examples of traditional training, however the advantage of e-learning is that an organisation can ‘try before they buy’, something not readily available with face to face workshops or courses. How often can a learning and development manager trial a selection of face to face courses to find out which best meets their needs, have bespoke changes to a course to cover their own specific learning objectives and have it available 24/7 to all staff? Of course they can’t, but e-learning offers this and more. So what’s the problem?
I think that many of the barriers to the adoption of e-learning revolve around the fear of losing those aspects of face to face training that work well, trainers believing that their position is threatened, moving trainers out of their comfort zone and of taking a foreseeable risk in adopting something new. No-one can blame anyone for thinking that these fears are real, but actually they stem from a lack of awareness and understanding of implementing e-learning, or a lack of training and support to implement it effectively. Adopting e-learning as part or whole of a learning and development strategy does not mean staff undertaking training in isolation, or trainers being made redundant. On the contrary e-learning works best when it is combined with practical activities that enable the learner to practice the knowledge and skills learnt through e-learning in a supportive environment to develop competency.
The most widely used online learning is for compliance training; induction, updates to legislation and regulations, and sector specific requirements. This training can be covered in a far more engaging and effective way than using traditional methods. Many years ago I trained IT practitioner apprentices, and the health and safety unit was the one training day that however varied and active I tried to make it, it was a challenge to keep the apprentices engaged. With e-learning I could deliver the same content in a fraction of the time and make the content engaging and interactive, with instant feedback on activities that motivated the apprentices to progress.
Although a complete advocate of e-learning I am the first to say that e-learning alone is not always the most effective method for all training requirements. However, I would say that a blended approach; a combination of face to face and e-learning, can rarely be improved upon whatever the industry. Not just from the perspective of effectively developing knowledge and skills, but improved knowledge to competency. Much of which is down to the learner being able to revisit the training as often as they like to reinforce learning, and being able to learn socially online from others, a very effective and empowering form of learning.
But for trainers, teachers and learning and development professionals the move to delivering an effective blended model of learning and assessment is not something that they can always take in their stride. Planning the model, sourcing or building online learning content and supporting the learning are new skills for many; it’s rather like ICT teachers who teach office applications being asked to teach programming. Whether live webinar training, developing learners online peer collaboration skills, developing online social learning, and delivering assessment and feedback online, professional development and support are required, and planning is key.
Without doubt the easiest, most cost effective and often the most effective training method to fulfil a training requirement, particularly in the workplace, is wholly delivered e-learning of some form. But we shouldn’t overlook the fact that for many the transition to implementing e-learning is not always as straight forwards as it is for others.
Author: Carolyn Lewis, Managing Director of Elearning Marketplace and Learning Technology Consultant working on many government funded commissions, and supporting private and public organisations.