Lately I have been involved in quite a few discussions about how well e-learning has been working. Organizations seem to be over the hump of adoption and are experiencing measurable results and uptake. For many, it’s been a long, hard road: We seem to be coming down from the just-in-time promise and being overly impressed by potential savings. Utilization numbers are still not as high as many would want, but there definitely seems to be a turnaround.
As is the case with any learning experience, I think it’s time to look back and discuss what we’ve learned. The irony of early efforts may be that e-learning’s greatest legacy is not the amount of learning that occurred, but what it has taught us about the overall effectiveness of existing programs. For quite some time, e-learning was the fall guy for failed training initiatives. But before we throw away every learning management system (LMS), revoke every login ID and start fining anyone who mentions SCORM in our presence, we need to step back and see if e-learning was really to blame.
The problem may lie in weaknesses within the structure of our overarching learning culture that e-learning has exposed. E-learning changed the learning landscape from one of teaching people in classrooms to learning at the desktop. Now that learning has become so personalized, effective assessment strategies have become increasingly important. Many organizations have been assessing learners before and after class for years, but has it been enough? Has it focused on the right things? As Donald Kirkpatrick taught us, Level 1 and 2 assessments are not the most effective for driving true business impact, yet they have been dominant. E-learning has a hard time standing on its own when the learner can’t see a direct relationship between using these tools and becoming more effective at their overall job. Without assessing learning outcomes based on job roles and business impact, many learners cannot make the jump from attending mandated classes to the self-directed environment of e-learning. That’s not e-learning’s fault. It may be a sign of an ineffective assessment strategy. We need to guide learners with more meaningful assessments driven by well-defined skills inventories and purposeful certifications.
Another area that has come to the forefront is the lack of true integration many learning programs have with business units and their managers. For years, managers sent their employees to classes in some distant building to fulfill a mandated training quota. Many managers rushed learners off to class in November and December because the year was drawing to a close and their reports hadn’t completed their required training hours. Those days are gone for many, but the disconnect between those same managers and the purpose of training still exists. Now that e-learning is distributed to the desktop, many line managers are ill equipped to manage the learning process for each of their learners. Training departments need to rebuild these bridges and educate managers as learning mentors and coaches.
A final area to examine is our ability to sell our programs at every level within the organization. Now that learning is seen as integrated into the working environment, training leaders and stakeholders have been forced to have conversations that they are unaccustomed to. With the advent of the CLO position, training finally has a seat at the “big table,” requiring learning leaders to speak in business terms. It also is challenging to get involved earlier in the business development process. For years, training was seen as an afterthought and had to fight for its involvement in mission-critical programs. Now that training can go beyond the classroom and better integrate into the workflow, it needs to do a better job of understanding each business unit’s outcomes and needs. The more our overall learning programs map to these expectations, the greater the uptake and adoption.
Learning modalities always have been a means to an end. Blaming e-learning for the ineffectiveness of an overall learning initiative or program may be ignoring the real problem. I’m not saying that e-learning is never flawed, but I think we need to take a broader look at our overall learning programs and outcomes before we judge the effectiveness of any one specific part.
Bob Mosher is director, learning evangelism and strategy for Microsoft Learning and has been an influential leader in the IT training space for more than 15 years. He can be reached at email@example.com.
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