I began to check off the elements. The phonics method itself was very effective. The product is designed beautifully with color, engaging characters, fun stories and progress posters. There is a good “blend” of media with workbooks, audiotapes, flash cards and CD-ROMs. The learner was very motivated (not to mention the parents). The problem was obviously not with the learning program itself.
Eventually it dawned on me that we weren’t using the training because it wasn’t easily accessible. We kept the phonics kit up in the closet so it wouldn’t get lost, torn or otherwise ruined. And we’d get it whenever we had time to sit down and use it. And as it turns out, that was the problem. Even though we knew sessions could be as short as 10 or 15 minutes, there was always competition from play groups, dance classes and, of course, SpongeBob SquarePants.
Rather than treating the phonics program like an event to be scheduled, we needed to make it a part of our everyday life. So where is the central point of our household? It’s obvious—the refrigerator, that altar of all things important: report cards, calendars, crafts made at school and pictures of friends and family. Eureka! Rather than treating the phonics text as a holy book to be revered, let’s rip out its pages and stick them on the refrigerator.
The change was dramatic and immediate. Rather than a 20-minute phonics session once every couple of weeks, we were doing two-minute phonics sessions several times a day. Lunch isn’t ready yet? Read a line from the worksheet. Daddy walks in from work, “Show him you know all the ‘ig’ words!”
So what does this have to do with e-learning? Everything.
How often do we hear that e-learning delivers training to the time and place of need? Too often, e-learning only brings training to the time and desk of need. Whether dial-up or broadband, most learners have been tethered, which means they are sitting at their desk. But about half of us in the workforce are mobile workers. We’re out meeting customers, caring for patients, enforcing laws, assembling components, trying court cases and other things.
Fortunately a solution is on hand with huge advances in wireless broadband technology. WiFi hotspots, which enable PDA and laptop users to access the Web wirelessly, are already cropping up in public areas. Perhaps more promising, but a bit further in the future, is the third generation of cellular technologies, called 3G, that enable broadband surfing on Internet-enabled cell phones. Armed with PDAs, laptops and tablet PCs with wireless capability, soon our corporate road warriors will have a chance to get real-time learning.
Don’t let technology panaceas blind you to the mundane issues of design and usability. Ask yourself these questions:
- Is your learning library organized by content, or by task so that it can be readily embedded into daily workflow?
- Is your learning library chunked into bite-size portions that fit into busy days, or does it require hours of serious attention?
- Do learners need to go through multiple portals with multiple logins, or is there one-click access to performance objects?
- Do your work schedule and culture permit on-the-job learning, or must employees complete e-learning at night or on weekends?
Remember, even the best training is often never used. Above all else, proximity drives usage. And if you doubt me, tear out this article and stick it on your refrigerator.
Kevin Kruse is a principal with Kenexa and facilitator of www.e-learningguru.com. For more information, e-mail Kevin at firstname.lastname@example.org.