Sunday, January 29, 2023

The Main Reason E-Learning Fails and How to Fix It

E-learning offers a lot of value to the organization. It ensures consistent delivery to any assigned audience that can access the course at a point of need or at their convenience, helping to save both time and money. Done right, there’s a lot of cost savings and value.

But here’s the thing – most e-learning is done wrong, and it doesn’t have to be that way. Creating a course has never been easier – it used to take a team of people with specialized programming skills, but with today’s no-code authoring tools, just about anyone can create a course.

While this is great for giving subject matter experts the power to quickly put together and share their expertise, often those courses don’t include any meaningful learning experience. As a result, you get lots of content with no real impact.

Good e-learning content is essential, but it’s not enough. A great training program is much more than just consuming content; it’s about creating valuable learning experiences. Unfortunately, it’s often easier for organizations to lean into content than to invest in crafting meaningful learning experiences.

Furthermore, a lot of training courses exist to meet regulatory and compliance requirements, but they don’t always reflect the needs of the end-user. As a result, many courses are irrelevant and there are few measurable performance metrics.

For annual compliance training, simply exposing people to content is often enough. However, if we’re looking to make performance improvements, we need to go beyond that. We need to create learning experiences which allow people to practice and demonstrate their understanding. Unfortunately, this is often overlooked, and the default intervention is to create content-focused courses with minimal assessment.

Performance-based learning is about teaching something, and then providing an activity where the learner can demonstrate they understand and can do what they need to do. For example, if we’re looking to increase sales, the training should include activities which prove the learner has the necessary skills to actually increase sales.

In most training environments that consist of e-learning, this type of “prove-it” assessment is either not planned for or not included in the overall training program.

Are you looking for a way to steer performance-based training in the right direction?

I created the DESA model to help understand the type of e-learning that’s built, align it around measurable performance-based outcomes, and get the commitment from subject matter experts and key stakeholders.

Let’s break it down.

Essentially all e-learning courses fall into one of three content types: documentation, explanation, and simulation.

  • Documentation: this type course is like a library of core content such as policies, user manuals, and product guides. It might be full of facts, but it doesn’t provide any context. Without context, the learner won’t understand how the content is relevant to their roles and expectations.
  • Explanation: this type course combines content and context to explain how to use the learning content in a meaningful and relevant way. This type of course is usually structured as presentations, tutorials, and other activities that are easy to understand. Most e-learning courses today fit into this category.
  • Simulation: this type course takes things a step further by simulating the decision-making process the learner will need to go through. This could take the form of software simulations when teaching a new application or decision-making simulations to replicate real-world scenarios. These types of courses take more time and resources to develop than just sharing information, but they provide a more immersive and effective learning experience.

What’s missing? Application!

  • Application: in order to truly prove competency and understanding, it’s important to apply the course content in a meaningful and relevant way. That’s why it’s so important to make sure learners are provided with an opportunity to show that they can actually DO what they need to do in order to meet the training objectives. This is the “prove-it” part of the training program. And unfortunately, it’s often neglected.,

I use the DESA model when working with stakeholders – it’s not groundbreaking or revolutionary, but it provides an effective framework for discussing training requirements, what needs to be created and how success can be measured.

Most e-learning courses fall into the ‘Explainer’ category – it makes sense, as these courses are a good mix of content and meaningful context, and they’re easier to build than simulation-type courses. Simulation-type courses require a more detailed understanding of the content, as well as a lot more effort when it comes to authoring resources like graphic design and learning experience design.

However, if the e-learning course is an explanation-type course  then the training program needs to offer something to the learner that extends into application. The organization either needs to commit to something more complex like a simulation course or offer activities outside of the e-learning construct.

Keep in mind, the objective of the training program should be performance improvement – and an e-learning course is just one part of the solution. Thus, the focus is on performance improvement, not just creating and delivering an e-learning course.

In a simulation-type course, one can build an activity that requires learners to “prove it” and show a reasonable level of understanding. But, as noted earlier, many courses are either in the document or explanation category and this type of training may be incomplete and ineffective, with no connection to performance improvement metrics. This could lead to wasted time and resources.

Fortunately, a blended training approach can help. By combining e-learning with other activities, organizations can ensure that their training is comprehensive and that they can show proof of success.

The DESA model helps identify the type of e-learning course that is being constructed and the need for some element of application. If the course is an explainer, then the question becomes how the learner will get to practice applying the content and demonstrate their level of understanding. This forces the organization and stakeholders to acknowledge their training request and make a decision where to include the “prove it” activity in the training program. If it’s inside the course, the explainer course shifts to simulation. If it’s outside the course, then there needs to be commitment and development of a blended learning experience that goes beyond the expectations of the e-learning course alone.

If you want to build effective e-learning that meets the needs of the organization, then you need to include some sort of application activity where the learner can prove their understanding and the organization can measure its effectiveness. The DESA model is a simple framework to steer the conversation in that direction.