As a CLO, you are continually striving to increase business-critical capabilities in your organization. Few avenues provide you with the potential to achieve your mission more effectively than those resident in the tools and technology we loosely term “e-learning.” To realize its potential, we must use it intelligently and place the needs of our learners and organizations ahead of our fascination with technology.
I recently reviewed what a well-intentioned supplier provided as an example of “best in class” online learning. It included a well-written text, a very professional set of interactive graphics, a high-quality streaming video of an extremely competent, well-spoken moderator, upbeat and engaging music and a strong logic line.
My difficulty began when I found that there was a progressive text box that duplicated the speaker’s words, a video image of the speaker and a set of PowerPoint graphics to which she was referring while she spoke. I was conflicted about whether to listen to her while looking at the graphics, to read the text and ignore the graphics and the speaker’s image or to attempt to do all of these. After about 10 minutes I turned the volume off so I wouldn’t have to listen to her. This allowed me to read at about twice the rate of her speaking. In this way I could advance the screens at double the speed, but she was still there and very distracting. To increase my engagement, the designer had included periodic questions to ensure that I was getting the key concepts, but my ability to page back and forth to review and gain context was encumbered by the natural limitations of the medium, and I found the interruptions to my reading irritating, not clarifying. Thirty minutes into what was to have been an hour-long session, I clicked it off feeling very frustrated. What’s wrong with this picture? Wasn’t this supposed to save money, save time, increase engagement and allow the learners to choose a modality of learning that suited their pace and learning style? Where did I go wrong? Welcome to e-world.
Before you label me a Ludite, let me declare my devotion to “e.” Ten or more years ago we were introduced to the excitement of “e.” Programs like Encarta put multimedia at our fingertips. The idea that I could move quickly from a video of the first atomic tests to a description of the Manhattan Project to a copy of the nuclear non-proliferation treaty to a heart-rending letter by Einstein on his horror at this application of his work was simply breathtaking. Perhaps this is not what you would consider e-learning, but I consider the use of technology that put these resources at my fingertips and allowed me to gain understanding in such an engaging and accessible manner very much e-learning.
I am a true believer when it comes to the power of “e,” but in a way that differs from my friendly supplier’s “best in class” model. Powerful e-learning begins when the learning and performance consultants in your organization work with the client to answer the question, “What problem is our client trying to solve here?” The next question is, “Can learning play a part in the solution?” If the answer is yes, this leads to a series of questions about learning, such as, “Could technology be used to provide a more valuable solution, and how can it be blended to optimize the outcome?”
Rather than establishing e-learning percentage targets and using it as a hammer for every solution, use it in a thoughtful, client-centered manner to enhance your solutions set. Don’t give up on e-learning. It is far too powerful to discard. As the song says, “We’ve only just begun.”
Fred Harburg is senior vice president of leadership & management development at Fidelity Investments Company in Boston, where he and his team are responsible for creating the appropriate leadership agenda to ensure the continued success of Fidelity’s 4,800+ managers. Fred has worked with companies such as IBM, General Motors, Disney, AT&T and Motorola. Fred can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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