Elearning: Is that how YOU learn?

An elearning keyboard
iStock/Boygovideo
David James
Learning Strategist
Looop.co
Columnist
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It seems to be the perennial challenge for L&D leaders: how do you get your employees to want to engage with elearning? It’s comparatively easy to get employees to complete online compliance training - you just threaten them. But for building the capability of knowledge workers, I still think elearning is yet to deliver on its promise.

We’ve tried everything we can think of, from whizzy animations, ‘real-life’ scenarios, game design, leaderboards, and interactivity. There are an abundance of tactics aimed at grabbing and holding the attention of employees long enough to make a difference but despite these, (and at the admission of its providers) elearning notoriously ‘struggles to retain, engage and motivate learners’ to an extent that could really impact upon an organisation’s people development goals. 

I see this time and again. But rather than asking: ‘what new fangled ways can we now try to gain take-up of our company elearning?’, perhaps we can ask a different question, one that gets to the heart of the problem…

Is that how YOU learn?

I've been asking this question to L&D professionals for quite some time and have yet to experience positive acknowledgement that those who source or create elearning actually learn this way themselves. I've only once had a challenge to this question and was subsequently told that whilst he didn't develop himself with elearning, it just wasn't his preferred learning style!

It’s now widely recognised that more than 70% of employees will go to web-search as a first port-of-call to learn what they need for their jobs - and I’m willing to bet that they’re not searching for an elearning course.

For me, there is a clear distinction between 'elearning' and 'learning online'. We might learn online when we use web-search to find answers, definitions, or in-depth information on a given topic that helps us to do our job. When we engage in online forums, seek credible ‘experts’, search YouTube for ‘how-tos’, TED talks for inspiration, etc., so that within a relatively short amount of time, we can equip ourselves with the information or know-how we seek. And just to be ultra-clear, what I mean by elearning can be understood when reading most people’s faces when you ask the question: 'What do you think of your company’s elearning?'

According to Towards Maturity’s latest benchmarking report, employees do want to learn online and the top three reasons they are motivated to do so are:         

  • To do their job faster and better 
  • For personal development
  • To increase their productivity

Whilst only 10% want to compete against colleagues for a high score.

So, despite notoriously low engagement, how come elearning is still bought and served as the default technology solution in so many organisations? 

We all know the rationale: classroom training is condensed online thus extending the reach of L&D, saving money, and ensuring a consistent experience for all - whilst reporting on ‘completion’ (or not). But I wonder whether L&D’s persistence with elearning has more to do with the IKEA effect - this being the ‘cognitive bias in which consumers place a disproportionately high value on products they partially created’? 

For one moment though, let’s think about what we could achieve if people wanted to engage with the organisation’s online learning offering? As a strategic L&D leader, I’m interested in higher performance, increased productivity, building internal capability, and improving the prospects of employees. All of which can only be done with engaged learners who will lead their own development inside an organisation’s learning systems rather than go straight to web-search when they want to learn.

So rather than thinking: which subjects can we drop into elearning? Perhaps we can find out how to best appeal to employees with online learning that engages them on their own terms? If we did this, I’m not sure we’d be serving elearning at all. I may be wrong. To check this, however, take a look at how you actually learn online today - not how you think you should but how you actually do - and then ask peers, friends and colleagues. This could provide you with some valuable insights into how employees for want to learn, too.

It’s time now to choose the learning technology that truly supports the people development goals within our organisations. Please let me know with your comments.

About David James

David James is Learning Strategist with Looop and a seasoned Talent Management, Learning & OD leader with more than 15 years of experience in the field. Until recently, David was Director of Talent, Learning & OD for The Walt Disney Company’s EMEA region. 

Looop is a powerful online learning platform for business that capitalises on how people really want to learn today and is renowned for extraordinary levels of learner engagement.

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20th Jan 2016 20:54

David - you are spot on!

My experience of elearning has been utterly dreadful. Forced to sit - like the rest of the "sheep" in the room - facing a supposed all-singing, all-dancing package, bouncy graphics, poorly-acted and cringe-worthy case scenarios, clicking here, there and everywhere like I had some kind of uncontrollable twitch, not really giving a toss whether I'd selected the correct answer or not!

Before I became self-employed seven years ago, in the sector I worked, many organisations (including my own!) jumped onto the elearning bandwaggon. It was seen as a "quick fix", low resource, cost effective (ha!) alternative to face-to-face training.

I can bet, with confidence, that if I went back to some of those companies and asked how successful elearning had been, I'd get, on the whole: "It was a logistical nightmare getting practitioners who work with children and young people to sit in front of a computer and find the time to undertake the learning was nigh on impossible!" Or: "Administration of the courses was a disaster! Day in, day out, staff forgot their log-in details!" Or: "Requesting staff start a course under their own steam was a pain in the backside. However, once on board, getting those staff to COMPLETE a course? Horrendous!"

This approach i.e. "let's stick everyone in front of a computer like a row of battery chickens and expect them to benefit from elearning every time" doesn't work in my opinion. No consideration around how people learn AND, a you say David, no thought given to HOW people learn online.

Great article. "Thumbs up" from me!
Ade.

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31st Jan 2016 09:24

David....nice article...you have raised a pertinent question but without answering it or providing the solution.
Most of the e-learning content is compliance related training (threat is a main driver) while the other content is not thought through about learning styles and learning disciplines. 70.20.10 principle should provide directional lighthouse on what % of content you should dedicate to e-learning (skill vs knowledge).
Cheers:-)
Ashwani

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11th Feb 2016 20:26

David, your article resonates with me and my personal experience of e-learning and encouraging others to do so. My attempt at a solution is to accompany e-learning with other complimentary online learning activity and self-managed tool kits that are usable and dynamic. It's work in progress but we are linking with subject matter experts to co-design the tool kits and recommend what links we should include: Ted talks, You tube and the like. Initial reaction is very positive and e-learning uptake has increased. That's one advantage, usage is easily measured but quality learning is a bit more elusive. Barry Wilding-Webb

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18th Feb 2016 09:03

Great article -

"Online learning" is being used to mean "online courses" in the same way as "learning" in organisations, still seems to be used to refer to classroom-based learning, still of taking into account the many other ways in which we learn - from observing others, by having quick informal chats, from in-depth discussions in meetings, trial and error etc etc

The role of L&D professionals as curators and facilitators rather than experts has been talked about for a while. The online environment makes it easier, so for me, the only way of encouraging employees to learn within an organisation's learning system (which I'm not convinced is the best solution anyway) is to create an online environment where all the different kinds of learning can take place, while also constructing a face to face strategy to support it. We need to move away from "online" learning and "face to face" and start acknolwedging how the two integrate.

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