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Why e-Learning May Not Be All It’s Cracked Up to Be

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Why e-Learning May Not Be All It’s Cracked Up to Be

Why e-Learning May Not Be All It’s Cracked Up to Be

A post from our Training & Coaching blog

      Written by Steve

Why am I saying this?

It's simple, really. I've been in the business of training for 20 years, with a mission to provide the best quality at great prices. I'm always looking for trends, for new ideas all the time, and implement what I think are relevant.

And the "big one" - especially since the COVID-19 outbreak - is e-learning. Isn't it the new way? Doesn't it hand you control of your learning?  Won't it change the way we all improve our skills? Well, my answer is that it has its place, but it's not the automatic choice that some of its evangelists would have you believe.


Who agrees with me?

Well, like-minded opinions have been around for years, so I'm not saying that my views are part of a new revolution in thinking (or a throwback, for that matter). But this article might help to add a bit of perspective to what's currently out there.

Take this from Verity Gough of Training Zone who outlined the shortcomings of training without personal involvement back in 2010, or this from BCS who identified the shortcomings of training in non-technical subjects even further back in 2009. Now look at what's on offer today and you'll see that these reservations are still valid.

And if you want a short, personal view, read this from 2014 by Ruth Moody on FarScape, who talks about how she wants to learn in a "human" way. And how about this post, from Mike Morrison on the RapidBI website, where he gives a great run-down of why "ticking boxes" isn't enough.

What's the evidence?

Most surveys I read tend to commentate on their findings, defining methodology and reeling off percentages, but failing to draw conclusions. Which is a shame. Many actually identify shortcomings without actually saying that they are a serious problem. Here are a few:
  • The need for high self-motivation from delegates
  • The impersonality of delivery
  • An inability to explain difficult concepts
  • The need for "real world" human follow-up
  • Too much focus on technology at the expense of useful content
  • A focus on passing multiple choice questions instead of learning
A couple of examples of surveys that are very informative but, in my opinion, pull their punches a bit, include those by Cedefop and IRRODL. Research by the CIPD said that just 31% of organizations that use e-learning reported that most employees completed the course.  Wow, there's a waste...

An article by Lokesh Sapre on LinkedIn says that e-learning usually needs a significant change in thinking, and additional resources, in order to work.

So e-learning isn't a matter of "plug and play" for instant results; in fact, if you don't put in the infrastructure, it can be a case, as with the early innovators in PC technology, of "plug and pray".

It can't all be bad

Advantages of eLearning
Of course not: here are a few great benefits:
  • It's cheap, so the accountants will love it
    But beware of letting any accountant run your business
  • It's flexible and convenient: you can study any time you like
    But your attention span will wane after a short while
  • Learning by game playing is fun
    Well, yes, but for anyone out of primary school, is it the best way of learning?
  • More people now have access to training
    There's no argument here: e-learning has opened up the world in this respect.
I've put in the caveats so you can see them right away, but of course, in many situations, e-learning is the best option. It's easy to argue (and I agree) that learning about, say, circular references in Excel is accomplished better by watching a two-minute online video than booking a day-long training course, but if you want to upskill across a broad range of topics, being glued to a computer screen for a day with no guidance is probably enough to send any of us out of our minds.

(Note: if you do actually do this, do it in manageable chunks, and make sure you choose an option that provides a reference book or workbook, because if you don't, after a few hours of study, you are unlikely to actually remember much of it at all.)

Something to think about

OK, a big corporation needs to get people certified in First Aid at locations all around the world. It can send them on conventional classes, or it can enrol them on to online courses. This is massively efficient, it costs very little, it has minimal disruption to business, and it gets the people qualified.

But if I have a heart attack at work (fingers crossed…), would I want to be given CPR by someone who learned it online, or someone who'd actually practised it on the floor of a classroom? Or if I want to upskill my sales team, would I send them online? Are you kidding?

What about Kindle?

Didn't we hear how the Kindle and similar e-readers were going to destroy the conventional book market? All kinds of scenarios were thrown up about the way we'd change our habits (and help the environment) as we ditched books and "went digital".

Well, this didn't happen, did it? I've got a Kindle and I enjoy using it. But like many others, staring at an e-reader screen after a day when I've worked for hours at a PC screen can be pretty tiring. Let's face it, Waterstones have removed Kindle from its shelves because sales had become "pitiful" (their word) and they have returned the space to paperback and hardback books.

This wasn't a surprise because it had been pretty well on the cards for some time when Foyles, as well as Waterstones, had also expressed doubts. The reason is that despite its convenience and low cost, the experience of buying and reading a Kindle book is pretty soulless. You can of course buy a book online, but going into a bookshop is a whole different thing: you can pick up the books, and search the shelves in a much more satisfying way. Why, a lot of shops now even serve coffee (but don't spill it on the books…). And owning and reading a book is a million miles from the world of the e-reader.

I'm not advocating either here: we all make our own choices, but it's worth noting that the different experience offered by traditional books is, to many people, much more satisfying and complete.  So is the case with classroom training.

So what's the conclusion?

Well, we saw the "coming" of CD-based training which failed because of the lack of interaction: it just gets boring, like going to the gym on your own. Conventional classroom training gives you a completely different experience, allowing you to feed off other delegates in a class, and even in a one-to-one session you can ask questions of an experienced tutor who will often illustrate their answer with examples that really bring the message home.

If an organization wants to roll out e-learning then it needs to invest – not just in the provision of adequate courseware, and the IT infrastructure to support it (or are you going to ask people to train at their desks?), but in the human follow-up to ensure understanding, and even attendance.  Anything less is likely to fall short of expectations. If you're looking to take up e-learning for yourself, it's a great idea, but for anything longer than short tutorials, you need some kind of human intervention.

It's abundantly clear that e-learning has created great opportunities that didn't exist before, not only in flexibility and low cost, but in accessibility to huge numbers of people who wouldn't otherwise be able to take part. But it's not a panacea, and in business markets, it's a very useful addition, but it doesn't come near the effectiveness of getting people together with a darned good good trainer who will take them to a higher skill level altogether.

Improve Skills

With ZandaX, we are committed to providing what you need online. Our blogs are evidence of this, with hundreds of articles on all kinds of subjects, along with a series of free eBooks on sales, time management, assertiveness and more.

So there we are. I hope you find this useful, in the flood of "one-way thinking" that dominates the landscape at the moment, as another view to consider.

Whatever your choice of solution, as always, I wish you well in what you do.

And, if you'd like to read more about e-learning vs instructor-led training, I talked about them in more detail in my previous articles, Online Training: What Are the Choices? and Online Training: Skills Improvement or Just Ticking Boxes?.

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