E-Learning - that's online learning - is an incredibly powerful tool that many businesses have embraced over the last decade. But are some businesses relying on it too much, to their detriment?
Training is an essential activity for any business that's serious about its future, but depending solely on an e-learning platform can make learning less personal, less engaging, and, in the process, less effective. Let's take a look at some of the disadvantages of e-learning, and why "going online" may not always be the best option for you.
In summary, the disadvantages are:
No self-discipline online
No face-to-face interaction
Lack of flexibility
Lack of input from trainers
Good e-learning is difficult to do
Lack of transformational power
No peripheral benefits
So let's take a proper look at each of them.
Disadvantage 1: No self-discipline online
Proponents of e-learning claim that its main advantage is that it is self-paced. Which is true. If you need to watch a video again, you can. If you want to take a break from the material, you can stop and come back to it when you are feeling refreshed.
However, because of this inherent freedom, "e-learning" often translates to "no learning". People may switch off from fully engaging in the material, and see the activity as a tick box exercise – just another item on an ever-growing "to do" list.
In an online environment, an e-learning task can undergo a gravitational pull to the bottom of the list, where it can languish for days, weeks, or even indefinitely.
The fact is, many people find it much easier to internalise new skills and knowledge through active training sessions with other people, than through an impersonal online learning module.
Disadvantage 2: No face-to-face interaction
While e-learning can be quite interactive these days, through the use of video conferences, webinars, and face-to-face video chat, it still isn't the same as sitting in a room with a real person. Simply put, there is no substitute for interacting with, and learning from, a fellow human.
Disadvantage 3: Lack of flexibility
E-learning can be great for learning specific skills and for knowledge that needs to be transferred. However, with more complex skills and competencies, it is more difficult to put together an effective online learning programme. And in a business context, these complex skills are often the most crucial.
It is these skills, which can only be discovered when you start thinking deeply and engaging in an activity or topic, that can make a big difference to an organization. The best learning happens when students discover the solutions on their own – by asking questions and obtaining clarification – and with e-learning this is more difficult to achieve.
Disadvantage 4: Lack of input from trainers
E-learning is structured. When a programme is developed, it is based on what the course developers think is the right curriculum at the time. However, online learning materials can become outdated – and may contain errors even from the beginning.
The best trainers will sit and talk to people. They will engage with to to find out what they need to know, and how they need to learn it. Student feedback is highly valuable, but it's less possible with an e-learning course.
Skilled trainers and subject matter experts are at their very best when they are being grilled by - and interacting with - their students. This interaction results in a better training process and better trainers. In e-learning, it's largely not present.
Disadvantage 5: Slow evolution
After an e-learning course is developed, it can take an inordinately long time for any necessary changes to be worked in. If a business model changes, or market conditions are disrupted, online training can even become obsolete. This is a waste of the time and money that were invested to get the course up and running.
However, with standard training – conducted in the training room, with live trainers – the course can be changed rapidly and even on the fly. Live training remains fluid, and will be more in tune with the specific needs of the business.
Disadvantage 6: Good e-learning is difficult to do
Developing a really effective e-learning course takes time, money, and a great amount of expertise. A good e-learning course involves multimedia, custom web development, technical support, and strong User Interaction (UI) design.
Although the market is improving, many of the first e-learning courses were clunky and unwieldy, and the technical and design problems negatively impacted the learning process, creating an adverse "first impression" that persisted even as standards improved.
With live training, the standard systems, processes, and best practices are far more established and well understood. The best practices for e-learning courses are still evolving and are a lot trickier to get right.
Disadvantage 7: Lack of transformational power
Of course, e-learning is effective for training in many areas. But advanced learning – game changing learning – comes about through live connection with an experienced practitioner.
It is through this engagement that a true transformation occurs and the learner becomes more effective as an individual, moving to their next level of performance. Such change is more difficult with e-learning.
Disadvantage 8: No peripheral benefits
When you bring together a team of people to be trained with subject matter experts, you set the stage for something more than just basic learning. If structured right, the dynamics of personality, intelligence, vision, and creativity all intertwine to create a group that is more than the sum of its parts.
Group situations can produce solutions to core business problems and bring about massive transformations - largely because of the sheer energy that is produced by the environment of a team that has come together for a single purpose.
Similarly, live training can foster team-building and create an environment where individuals deepen their relationships, get know each other better and learn in a unique environment where they all have the same goal. Done right, training is about much more than just pushing new information into employees' heads.
E-learning certainly has its benefits, but HR professionals must understand the limitations and disadvantages that are inherent with online training schemes. These factors should be carefully considered when developing any training plan to determine the right solution for your business.
For the response in favor of e-learning, see our article on advantages of e-learning that presents the other side of the argument.
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