One man's fight against awful e-learning

One man's fight against awful e-learning

Before we start, this is an area which really irks me. You’ll probably be able to tell this by what follows.

"We can offer your staff access to hundreds of e-learning modules."

Every time I hear or see these claims by e-learning providers I get a compelling urge to launch something at the wall. And yet, they state this over and over again because it’s a sales strategy which clearly works

But why? Why are we obsessed with volume? Who in their right mind wants to do hundreds of e-learning modules? Especially when they're off the shelf generic tat which have little or no relevance to the work that they actually do.

What are the business needs these courses are addressing? You know your business needs, linked to your business strategy. Oh they aren’t? Well we’d better order us 20 then! It's just ridiculous.

When it comes to e-learning we seem to believe that it looks better to be able to offer as many courses as possible regardless of whether they are any good, relevant to our businesses or engaging to our staff.

But soft skills are universal and transferable, I hear people say. They may be. But how each organisation uses them isn’t. Furthermore, why would we want our people to do e-learning about people skills when they work in offices full of other people who, y'know, they could talk to?

Take leadership and management for example. Off the shelf leadership modules won’t be based around your organisations values, mission and vision. If they are you should be ashamed because you’ve managed to pick the most generic and cliched set of values in history.

Even if you do luck out and find some modules which contain your exact values. It still won’t explain how your organisation lives these values. The behaviours, processes and cultural idiosyncrasies your business has.

Modules which describe best practices won't explain how your company does things. Ultimately they won't help your people do their jobs better, easier or more efficiently.

You wouldn't just buy hundreds of random workshop sessions off the shelf for your people, so why do it with e-learning?

No wonder e-learning/digital learning gets such bad press.

So how do we fix it?

1) First of all, declare a cull on your e-learning. Re-examine all the courses you currently have from the point of view of what specific business needs are they addressing. Any which don't fix a problem within your business can go.

I'm guessing that's pretty much all of them? Good.

2) Hold digital learning in the same esteem as face to face learning. You wouldn't design and inflict face to face courses on your staff without properly establishing the needs which they address and clear learning outcomes which can be measured and ultimately impact on the profitability of your business. Treat digital learning exactly the same. Respect it as a meaningful tool not a catalogue filler.

3) Design with the learner in mind. This is crucial. If the first e-learning course your staff take is naff then you've lost them.

The content must be engaging and relevant. Work out what your people need to know and do, and how they will apply it in their work and stick to this. They don't need to know the history of everything or how other companies do things. Tell them how your company does it.

Equally, I can't stress enough how important user experience (UX) is. If you've managed to pry your staff away from YouTube to use your own in house e-learning then it better be easy to use. If learners can't find the things they want in 2 clicks or so then there'll find somewhere else they can go where they can.

Take time to make sure your e-learning is easy to use, that people can find and do what they want intuitively. If you need to build a "how to use this course" page then you've already lost.

So let's fix these negative perceptions of e-learning by binning the generic off the shelf courses, respecting our staff and the tools afforded to us by e-learning, and taking time to design engaging relevant content with a kick ass user experience which actually helps people do their job and develop within your organisation.

Rant over, thanks for reading (If you've managed to stick it out this long).

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  • Understand exactly what you say Chris, but where do we go from here. Working with external providers who make bespoke material is a killer on price. The only other way is to get to learn what you speak about. TIME!!

    • Hi Imtiaz

      You make a really good point.  If people are to look to create completely tailored digital learning instead of the off the shelf equivalent, then there is a mighty price to pay.  This price would probably prove prohibitive to many smaller organisations.

      So what could be done by way of compromise?  For me, it is still key to aim for quality over quantity and to ensure all courses are relevant.  So maybe a halfway house whereby the only elearning on offer is that which directly meets an identified business need within an organisation and fits in to a clearly defined development programme or initiative.

      Also, if creating bespoke e-learning is too expensive, I wonder whether attention should instead by directed at putting time in to truly blend that generic e-learning into learning programmes.  So the learning that takes place away from e-learning is used to set the scene and provide localised context and then the e-learning provides relevant supplementary learning. 

      Any thoughts?

      • Hi Chris
        Elements of the last two points you made could work for a small organisation with a limited training budget or a company moving towards e learning and away from just traditional classroom delivery for the first time.
        I would really like to see small elements of good quality e learning introduced to support classroom and on the job/side by side training.
        In today's world generic training may work but due to the way smaller companies do business their ways of working are quite unique to themselves. Hence as their internal training is bespoke at most times,
        e learning requires to be done the same way. Although the challenge remains around do you up skill one of your own trainers to learn and develop content or do you go external..

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