Take control of your e-learning

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Patrick Fitzpatrick, director of e-learning strategy at Xperience, the IT solutions provider that recently won an e-learning contract with Deloitte, reveals how to manage your programme to produce optimum results.

The e-learning industry has taken many different twists and turns over the last 10 years. We have witnessed great successes one day - followed by extreme collapses the next, with many small start-up companies falling by the wayside. But is the e-learning industry developing and evolving fast enough for it to be an acceptable element of every organisation's learning and development strategy?

We have spent much of our e-learning time looking at solutions and listening to "experts" defining what the dos and don'ts are when implementing e-learning. We have seen the extortionate costs many organisations pay for the development of 'mind numbing content' solutions. So where are we?

Many Human Resources or training departments are completely disillusioned by the content solution in the market. The e-learning honeymoon period ended years ago and people know what they want but cannot find it. It is obvious that suppliers haven’t listened to the need of the market but are more interested in 'box shifting' and making as much profit as possible to avoid collapsing and falling into oblivion.

So what can make a difference to e-learning?
There are many new e-learning initiatives which border on something really good. Over the last couple of years, games-based learning has become one of the most positive elements to move e-learning into the 21st Century. If we focus on learning and development to maximise our work life, the games-based approach can work successfully here. Our everyday working life can be construed as one big game – we take on tasks, challenges, we troubleshoot and firefight, we suffer the fallout of decisions we make and so on. It's just one big game we could simulate and deliver as an analytical, training and support solution.

The games-based projects have focused too much on the actual gaming environment. Delivering high end 3D simulations, being able to roam and navigate through different virtual environments and carry out tasks where you can visualise situations is fantastic, but in the real world for many organisations is currently impossible to implement. It seems that in some cases the industry will either deliver the most boring page turning content or the most desirable but undeliverable simulated environment.

Bringing e-learning to life
If we look somewhere in between the fantastic and the boring we will find something in e-learning very special. Whether we look at role, product or soft skills training we can bring e-learning to life by delivering basic simulations. Our objective should be to mirror our working environment. Replicating every challenge, task or problem we encounter in an e-learning simulated environment will enable us to identify some critical information:

Knowledge gaps
Looking at any type of job role, we must deliver a series of scenario based tasks a learner would encounter in the real working environment. These tasks must be set against their key competencies – this will highlight where the immediate knowledge gaps lie. The type of approach lends itself perfectly to internal professional development planning. It is not enough to have 'fluffy' opinion / conversation with a member of staff for them to define their level of knowledge and skills, let's clearly pinpoint these gaps and build a solid development plan.

Cause and effect of decisions we make
Delivering scenarios within the simulated environment can help us to understand the effects for each decision we make. For instance, a HR manager going through a disciplinary procedure with a member of staff doesn't following to correct procedure. In an e-learning course you will be told you are incorrect (with feedback giving the correct approach), the impact of being wrong needs to be much stronger. For every decision we make there is a positive or negative effect, and these effects must be highlighted to the learner, now we have created a substantial impact highlighting the necessity for learning.

How to handle difficult situations
In many cases individuals are thrown into situations where they end up 'firefighting' without extensive knowledge. Delivering critical and challenging tasks on a regular basis gives the learner the ability to understand and cope of issues, especially when these tasks are delivered at a fast pace with critical deadlines.

Further career prospects
Identifying individuals for career development or change is an important aspect for most organisations. Scenario based learning allows individuals to trial and test the ability and knowledge for different job roles. This approach is vital for organisations trying to fulfil internal recruitment.

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