E-learning is hot. And for good reason. If done right, it can produce great results by decreasing costs and improving performance. Also, unlike a one time classroom session, the elearning course is available for others. This includes the static elearning course as well as any ongoing conversations in networked communities.
Recently, I had a conversation with someone new to elearning and it struck me that she didn’t fully understand the value of elearning. I think this is common as more people are joining the world of elearning. Understanding elearning’s value helps you make the best decisions about when and why to use it.
E-learning Supports the Organization’s Goals
Improved training costs. Producing learning content is time consuming whether it’s online or not. With elearning, each time the course is accessed your return on investment improves because you are dividing the fixed production costs by number of uses. You also have savings through decreased travel, reduced material, and hopefully improved (and more efficient) performance.
Decreased material costs. Let’s say you have to train how to arrange equipment in a sterile environment like an operating room. If you had to use the real environment, it would be costly. Even setting up a fake environment has material costs and labor. By creating the environment online and letting the learner practice, you never have to worry about the costs associated with set up, use, and clean up.
Increased productivity. Because elearning is not bound by geography or time, you can control training’s impact on production by training people during down times. In addition, with the current economy, you’re asking people to do more with less. So elearning is a great way to give them the tools and skills needed to enhance their performance.
Standardization. You may have a great facilitator, but that’s no guarantee that the courses are presented the same across sessions. Elearning allows you to create a standardized process and consistency in the delivery of content. It also compresses delivery time. I’ve combined elearning courses with facilitated sessions. Elearning delivered consistent content. Live sessions were interactive case studies that applied the information.
E-learning Supports the Learner’s Development
- Real-time access. Live learning events require that those who participate align their schedules to the training calendar. Elearning eliminates this because the course can be accessed anytime, anywhere. This can also happen without Internet access. I saw a Red Cross demo where the learners accessed the content on a PC out in the field and uploaded their results when they were back online.
- Freedom to fail. Let’s face it, real learning requires some failure. But no one likes to fail in a classroom full of other people. Elearning lets you fail without fear. This encourages exploration and testing of ideas. With the right feedback you create a great learning environment. Worst case, you can always start over. Something you can’t always do in class.
- Improved retention. The combination of multimedia and instructional design can produce a very rich learning experience that is repeatable. Throw in some good practice activities with feedback and you have a learning environment that’s going to help your learners retain the course content which will produce results.
- Personalized learning. Look out the window at your parking lot. My guess is that you’ll see a dozen or more different cars. They all do the same thing, yet we have personal opinions about what we want to drive. The same for learning. Learners want control. Elearning allows you to offer control to the learners in a way that classroom learning doesn’t.
E-learning Nurtures a Learning Organization & Community
- Ongoing access to resources. If you take a class in the real world and need a refresher, you better hope that you took good notes. Otherwise, you’re out of luck. That’s not the case with elearning. Ideally, you continue to have access to the online content and resources to brush up on what you learned.
- Knowledge management. Many people see elearning as only the authored courses. But elearning includes all sort of online technologies. If you incorporate some of the tools that allow collaboration and conversation, you can capture organizational knowledge that is available for future learners.
- Encourage sharing. The foundation of a learning community is built on sharing what you know with others. This is where incorporating a forum or wiki really adds value to your elearning. Depending on how the course is structured, you can encourage sharing of resources and insight gained from the course.
- Employer of choice. People want opportunities to grow. A cafeteria with high fat foods is one way. Another is a catalog with all sorts of elearning courses. This allows them to explore other opportunities in the organization. During downtime, it would be great to spend fifteen minutes learning to better manage meetings or improve working with peers. Offering these opportunities to learn makes you a place people want to stay.
- Elearning is good for the environment. Britain’s Open University’s “study found that producing and providing distance learning courses consumes an average of 90% less energy and produces 85% fewer CO2 emissions per student than conventional face-to-face courses.”
If you’re using a learning management system you might consider how that impacts the learning. Do people have access to the resources when the course is complete? Can they retake it? Are you punishing them for failing?
Elearning is cost effective and can produce great results. It’s all a matter of how you use it. Where do you see elearning’s effectiveness? What suggestions would you offer to those who are just getting started? Feel free to share your ideas via the comments link.
I’m in San Diego at the Training 2010 Training & Expo this week. If you’re there, swing by the Articulate booth and say “Hi.”