…And How To Fix Them.
A few weeks ago I posted a blog article here on the site about the differing attitudes of industry and education to e-learning. I wrote it on foot of an interesting article (a couple of interesting articles, actually – the details are in the blog post) which I felt was tacitly suggesting something that was fundamentally unfair – that the business world likes e-learning because it’s cheap, while education dislikes it because it’s ineffective. Naturally, I rejected that proposition. Of course, it doesn’t follow that everything in the world of e-learning is therefore sweetness and light. Especially in the business world, there are a number of difficulties that any organisation may run into when constructing an e-learning infrastructure, but after a little while (we’re part of a business training organisation that has 20 years’ experience in training generally, and almost a decade in e-learning specifically), you realise that the same problems tend to rear their heads again and again. As such, they’re not unexpected, and as such, they’re very manageable for a good team. In no particular order, here’s the list:
1) E-Learning that is impractical in its content and its application – this is a common misconception among learners, especially in the practical industrial worlds where our e-learning courses are used. I recall some years ago, working on a building site, hearing the barely suppressed giggles of my fellow inductees when watching a VHS video where one construction worker called over two colleagues to discuss whether it would be appropriate to lift a box. They scratched their chins, kicked the box once or twice, then seemed to decide it was liftable. The scenario was slightly ridiculous, and completely distracted from the no-doubt important and useful manual handling information the voiceover was providing at the time. That kind of poorly designed content has left a bad association with elearning in many people’s minds.
The video was impractical in two ways: the scenario was silly, and every worker there understood that – if before anyone on a building site lifted anything they had to have a mini-conference with their colleagues nothing would get done. Also, it was impractical in that the information it was relating to the learners was lost because of this design mis-step. A little experience will teach instructional designers how to make the information short, digestable and ultimately of use to the learners, and if the content of the training course is available after the course is run, conveniently accessible for employees to dip into at times when they may need to refresh (especially convenient for induction issues around important but infrequently-used processes or technology, for example), so much the better. In a situation like that (often achieved through the use of a practical, effective learning management system or LMS), you’re well on your way to creating an effective practical learning ecosystem within your organisation.
2) Lack of clear objectives/structure – before the course is even begun to be designed, you need to know what you’re designing, obviously. You need to know what the learners have to take away from the course, and you need to build the course to accomplish that. That means short, effective sections containing the required information, with frequent recaps of the key points (decided before anyone even begins to build the course, in practice normally a set of goals required by law or some HACCP procedure or its equivalent) and with interactive quizzes, not only to test the learner’s knowledge retention, but also to engage the learner and to fight boredom. For as long as there’s been e-learning, the problem of motivation has been key. You need to keep learners engaged with the material or they just won’t retain the information. That’s where good instructional design comes into play. It’s as necessary a part of the e-learning process as the content.
The training structures external to the content are also crucial to consider. E-learning is a great way to streamline a company’s training infrastructure, to make it more efficient, but it’s not an excuse to go without a training infrastructure at all. Sitting in front of an online induction course, however well designed, can be a solitary experience. Some kind of support structure for learners, be it a forum or email discussion (or any kind of discussion, really) of the content between learners and other stakeholders all aids retention and helps to make the material more immediately applicable and practical.
3) No Evaluation/Tracking – when a company adopts e-learning as a practice going forward, it can be a danger that the content simply sits on a dusty drive somewhere, gets dusted off once or twice a year as compliance dictates, and employees parade in front of it then forget it about until next time. Whether or not the course is effective, whether or not it’s money well spent, depends on the training outcomes, so they should be tracked, monitored and analysed. A good LMS will do this at the click of a button, but regardless of the system being used there should be some effort. Obviously, you should see an effect on the practical operations of the business, but there are other measurements. The number of learners passing the course, or looking to take the course if it’s not mandatory are all factors to consider in how effective (or not) an e-learning course is being for your business.
These are the kind of common problems we encounter when we do business with clients. In our experience, none of them are insurmountable. On the contrary, with a little experience and planning, they’re very manageable and solvable problems.