Anyone who knows me well will know that i’m not one for lists, but a number of people have asked me what the main reasons are for using e-learning. In no particular order, here are five reasons and some thoughts on why they work.
It’s highly scalable: classroom based training is really effective, but it’s limited by how good the trainer is and what the environment is like. If the trainer is either inexperienced or just not good at explaining things, then the experience is significantly degraded. Similarly, if the room is too hot, cold or noisy, then the learning experience can suffer. As well as these very obvious risks, there is the question of scalability – there are only so many people that you can train in a room in one go, but there is no limit to how many people can use a piece of e-learning. The business case for e-learning is usually very clear and quite compelling. We shouldn’t lose sight of the fact that the learning experience is often very different, but handled and designed well, the experience can be very scalable.
It’s great for showing things: E-learning is great for being able to break things apart and show you how they work. It doesn’t matter if you’re looking at how an engine works, or how a sales conversation should be run, you can break it down and illustrate every point, with accuracy and in a repeatable manner. The range of media available mean that solutions can be compelling and engaging, using a rich canvas of audio, video and imagery to demonstrate and explore subjects. On the down side, all of this can be undermined by poor learning design or the triumph of gloss over substance. It’s all very well having high quality video or animations, but if they are not effective, then they are useless!
It can extend the learning experience both ways: a day in a workshop lasts for five or six hours of learning (or maybe more crammed in if you’re unlucky!). It may last for several days, but with e-learning (or blended learning, where we use trainer led plus ‘e’ elements, the experience can be extended. This can include pre course diagnostics and activities, where we are covering knowledge and context before people ever engage in the main learning piece, and we can also include post course/module activities, where we revisit learning in bite sized chunks after days or weeks. This type of activity can bring the learning to life and help us to address the key trouble that people encounter: how to take footsteps out of the learning and change activities in real life.
It’s a medium that people are willing to engage with: One obvious benefit of e-learning is that it’s a communication channel that people are really willing to engage with. The evidence shows us that people love to engage with great websites, television programmes, Apps and gadgets. If we can understand what makes these things so attractive, match the quality and attraction and make it easy to learn, then we are on to a winner. One easy test is to ask ourselves ‘is it any good’? Literally, to think of the solution that we are designing and to think about whether it is both engaging and informative. People are highly discerning consumers of media and it’s important that whatever we produce is worthy of their attention.
It’s great for assessment: E-learning can be used in lots of creative ways for assessment. Sure, you can ask multi choice questions, but there’s so much more that can be done. We can use branching scenario based assessments, where individuals have to make choices, justify those choices and see feedback from those decisions. We can explain concepts then ask users to interpret those concepts back to us, in a different context. We can play around with the building blocks of ideas and get users to play with them, to demonstrate their competence by literally building a solution back up again. There are lots of ways that you can carry out creative assessments with e-learning. The challenge to us is to try them out and measure their effectiveness.
So there we go, five quick and easy reasons why people use e-learning. There are plenty more, but it’s a start.