First off, let’s begin by acknowledging that not all eLearning is created equal. Initially, there was a version of eLearning that was known as “Computer-Based Training” (CBT) which was the original “click-through content” and “answer questions” model. Then came the fun gamification models, and the just-in-time microlearning models, all the way to the high-tech virtual awareness software programs that allow user interaction. So, is eLearning effective? The answer is clear: it depends. Like everything else in the world of business there are pros and cons to this type of training delivery method, which we will review here. At the end of this article, I will also leave you with questions to try to better assess your personal situation and, in particular, if eLearning is right for you and your organization.
eLearning is often utilized because it is a cost-effective and time-efficient way to skill up many people that are often spread out in different geographical locations. It allows content to be delivered consistently, at the learner’s pace, and is easily tracked and measured. How many people took the course? How quickly did they get through the content? Were there trends in what groups of people completed the training versus other groups? This is often where the “check the box” training concept stems from. While helpful, this data isn’t necessarily able to point to expertise or retention.
Prior to creating any training program, the critical question to ask is: why is the training needed? Too often training is used as a band-aid to solve a symptom of a much larger unresolved issue. Make sure your “why” is clear and that it is addressing a root cause. For example, if your primary purpose is compliance training, then yes, eLearning is probably right for you. If your main desire is to solve communication problems within your organization, I would recommend looking at alternatives. The difference here is understanding at what level your content will need to be applied. Do people simply need to be aware of the information? Will they need to apply the content to their day-to-day work?Will they have to take a different action or train others in the future? This can also help you determine if, and when, to use eLearning.
The main reason not to choose eLearning as a delivery method for your people would be if it will not produce your desired results. For example, if a complex or sensitive subject matter is being discussed, or if someone will need to physically apply the teachings, reading up on content or playing a gamified version on the computer may not be applicable in the real world. For some things the only way to learn is to do through perfect practice.
So, there you have it. eLearning can be extremely helpful when used for the appropriate reasons in the right context, however, be strategic and clearly define your expectations prior to deciding on this type of training.
As promised, here are some questions to help you determine if eLearning is right for you and your organization:
- Define what and why you plan on offering via eLearning? Clearly state the objective(s) and intended end-results. What would a perfect deployment look like?
- Think about the population of people you are sending through this training. Do they have the appropriate access to technology? How many people need to go through this training? Where are these people geographically located? Do they all require the same level of information? What are their preferred learning methods? How did you identify the group that needs to be trained?
- Speaking of technology, do you have an LMS? How will you be deploying this and tracking results?
- What analytics have been tracked historically and what measurements will be needed in the future? Where is the starting point of the data? What will “good” look like at the end of this training initiative?
- What level of application will people need to show expertise in? In their personal knowledge recall? In an observable behavior change? In the way the organization operates?
- How often will people need to go through this training? How often will the details and content change? Will there be a specific time/date users need to take the course or complete it by? Can the system handle everyone taking the course at the same time, or will there need to be a deployment schedule?