Doesn’t that sound revolutionary and the perfect way to save on training? Well, hold your horses one minute. Let’s forget the flashy technology and the promised savings for a moment, and remember your organisation’s training needs. Are they really a perfect fit for e-learning?
Unfortunately, not always. If you're still unsure whether e-learning is a good fit for you and your company, below are some reasons why it may not be your best option.
1) You might need a venue after allEveryone has a computer and an Internet connection these days, haven't they? After all, you can’t switch the TV on without someone mentioning Twitter, Facebook, or any other social media networks these days.
But, in reality, they don’t. According to the Office of National Statistics, 14% of Great British households had no Internet access in 2015. Of the households that do have Internet access, many only have a smartphone rather than a PC capable of running e-learning software. Some people might have a computer in their household, but lack the skills to start and complete an e-learning course. And many households have no computer at all.
This means you probably can’t ask your learners to do their e-learning at home. You’re still going to have to fork out for a venue, plus the cost of some IT equipment (whether rented or purchased) to run it on.
2) Creating a good e-learning course isn’t easy, or cheapHow about the course itself? The great thing about e-learning is that once you’ve designed and built the software, you can deliver the course again and again. Of course, you’ll probably have to hire a specialist company to do it – since less than a third of companies have the in-house skills to design an e-learning course.
Still, it’s probably really efficient if you’re a big corporation with lots of employees. It’s OK that developing a suite of e-learning materials can cost tens of thousands, because a big company might use it thousands of times. If you have fewer people to train, however, the value might not be there.
An off-the-shelf e-learning course could still be good value for a small company, because it’s cheaper than designing your own. That works for basic subjects, like introductory food hygiene. But company or role-specific learning? Good luck finding an off-the-shelf course that really fits your needs.
3) E-learning outcomes might not be what you hoped forYou sit your learners down in front of a screen. They watch a video, read some learning material, then take a test. And just an hour later, they… haven’t learned all that much, actually - even though they all sailed through the test.
It’s telling that in the CIPD’s 2015 learning and development survey, e-learning was ranked the 4th-most popular training method… but was tied for last place in effectiveness.
Is it really any surprise, when you remember that e-learning:
- Can’t teach or assess practical skills?
- Can’t directly answer your learners’ questions?
- Is usually too short and simple for learners to retain what they have learned long-term?
- Usually offers limited interactions via a keyboard, mouse or touch screen?
It shouldn’t be.
4) You need to really trust your learnersOne of the selling points of e-learning is that you don’t need to supervise your learners. It’s just them and a device, meaning they could even take the course at home. 81% of e-learning is self-managed this way, according to Ambient Insight's research.
All of which is great, so long as you can trust your learners to:
- Complete their e-learning program on schedule
- Be motivated enough to engage with the course – it’s often easy to click through e-learning courses without really taking the material on board
- Not cheat on tests and quizzes
In organisations where staff are already highly motivated to achieve their goals, this can work fine. But for younger learners, or lower-skilled employees, who may not be fully invested in their jobs, the level of responsibility e-learning demands can be too much. Courses are either never completed, or not completed properly.
If you can’t trust your learners, e-learning might not be for you.
5) People have different learning styles, but e-learning doesn’tYou probably already know about learning styles. Those who subscribe to the concept believe some people learn best in a group, others by studying alone; some learn by going hands-on, others by reading about theory and logic; and while some people learn best by looking at pictures and watching videos, others respond better to sounds or written words.
A skilled, in-person trainer can respond dynamically to a group’s various learning styles, but an e-learning course currently cannot. With e-learning, everyone follows the same, linear computer program, which only supports one or two learning styles.
The outcome is that a handful of your learners will have their learning needs met, and the rest won’t. It’s pot luck.
6) You’ll probably still need a human trainerE-learning isn’t billed as a complete replacement for in-person, classroom-based training. But there is a perception that it can replace some courses usually taught by a qualified trainer. Unfortunately, however, that isn’t always the case.
E-learning is often described as “passive”, because while it can include interactive elements such as quizzes and games, in many instances the learner is simply reading text from a screen. For many of the skills your learners need to acquire, that’s no substitute for classroom interactions like discussions, group work, hands-on exercises and making oral presentations. When you think about it, how could it be?
Advocates of e-learning accept this, and many now take an approach referred to as “blended learning” or “hybrid learning”. These are two rather fancy ways of saying they flesh out their e-learning courses with other types of training – usually trainer-led. This helps make sure knowledge and skills actually sink in.
If you were hoping to do a straight swap of in-person learning for e-learning, first make sure it offers the learning retention your students need.
ConclusionSo maybe e-learning isn’t the best. It doesn’t have all the answers, after all. However, that doesn’t mean it’s no good or that it doesn’t have its place – it does. But for today’s cost-efficient organisations, training is a significant investment that demands results - so it’s vital that you fully assess your options before choosing your training methods.
We hope this article helped, and we’d love to hear about your own e-learning experiences below.