Lots of people assume that e-learning is expensive to produce, that it’s not as effective as classroom based training, or that it’s good for knowledge training, but not for skills training. None of these things are true if the e-learning is good, but they can all be true if the e-learning is bad. It’s like saying that cars are fast. Not all cars are fast. My Land Rover certainly isn’t fast, but it is very good for loading up with kayaks on a sunny afternoon. It’s fit for purpose, and that’s what any e-learning should be.
E-learning is not a ‘thing’, it’s a methodology for training using text, audio, animation, graphics and video, but it’s more than just media. Good e-learning is storytelling and, as such, it needs to find it’s tone of voice and delivery. Most of the preconceptions about what e-learning actually is are based upon poor experiences, but that’s like judging all cars based on your first car. Sure, e-learning can be expensive, but it usually pales into insignificance against the cost of driving and flying people around the country and putting them up in hotels. Sure, it can take a lot of time to build, but only if you’re not following a good methodology and only if you’re covering a lot of ground, which would take a long time to design in any media.
In any event, the question should not be whether it’s ‘good’, it should be whether it’s effective, and there’s no doubt that e-learning, in the right context, can be highly effective. It’s also inherently trackable, meaning that it’s easier to measure the success from the outset.
I’m sure that in many cases, the best way of training something would be to sit someone in a room next to an expert, then support them whilst they carry out that activity, giving feedback at every step. But that’s no possible and, in any case, is not always the best approach. People differ in how they learn, and different situations, as well as different people, require different approaches, and e-learning can be very useful for matching these needs.
Using creative and innovative techniques, along with the powerful emerging technologies and methodologies is, in any case, blurring the distinction radically between ‘classroom’ events and e-learning as broadcast. Forum spaces and online collaboration makes it time delayed interaction, but webinars and virtual classrooms can pull the dynamic firmly back into the conversational.
E-learning can learn the very best things from face to face training, and indeed can facilitate the very best stand up teachers and trainers to reach larger audiences. It’s not the solution to every training need, but it’s increasingly part of every solution.