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Tuesday, April 16, 2024

Head in the clouds—pitfalls of eLearning

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WITH the extension of alternative work arrangements and the majority of employees working from home, most organizations have invested, or are planning to invest, in a learning management system (LMS) to meet the training needs of its work force. These classrooms in the cloud provide efficient on-demand content which organizations are hoping will alleviate the dearth in training and development. While it is a good idea, not everything can be converted into online content.

In a bid to hitch the bandwagon of eLearning, some have resorted to just converting their PowerPoint presentations into videos with narrations here and there, without considering how learners will react to it because the focus is more on content generation than on measurable learning outcomes. You end up with so many learning materials without any clear goal of where the learner is supposed to go. A majority of the eLearning content I have seen these days focuses more on information overload than actually helping learners learn.

Not all learning materials can be converted into an eLearning course. It is best to use eLearning for those courses whose learning outcomes are knowledge and applications of concepts to real-life situations. And even if you do use it for applying concepts, the course designer needs to incorporate scenario-based learning to not only ensure that concepts are not only applied in similar situations but also allow for learners to apply them whenever it is applicable.

This means course designers need to be immersed in the daily activities of the target learners and use those experiences in the course. The online course has to mimic the same set of scenarios a learner would normally face. One pitfall of developing eLearning courses is when it is disjointed from what learners actually experience. To remedy this, course designers need to be immersed and trained in what learners do, and in the software they will use in developing the eLearning content. Not all course designers have those skills. You need to invest in training your course designers to make content that is not only relatable but also interesting.

Which brings me to eLearning that learners find boring. And since eLearning is done at the learner’s pace, this could lead to multitasking several screens at the same time. Several studies have discovered that the average adult attention span is 8 seconds, while some have claimed that it depends on the task. However, place yourself in front of a computer, or your mobile device, and take a text-based eLearning—how long do you think would last before you switch screens and read something else? Not everyone manages their time properly to handle their own schedules, much less be self-disciplined for at-your-own-pace learning materials. If your eLearning is not interesting, it could become more costly to maintain it and ineffective in equipping your employees.

An advantage to eLearning is that the path of learning is determined by the learner. This assumes that the learner is mature enough to identify their training needs, or the organization has a clear development plan for their employees. If not, learners will end up taking courses that have no direct benefit to their work, or, worse, use this as an excuse to not do their work. In a recent meeting with managers on what their training needs are for a new program in the organization, some spoke up and admitted they actually did not know what they needed to learn since it was an entirely new program. When an organization does not have a clear succession plan or a concrete career development program, eLearning could become more of a distraction than the solution to a business problem.

In a previous company, when we were looking at the implementation of our mobile-based LMS, we realized that this also meant providing the connectivity for employees’ mobile phones which created another problem on network security. Another pitfall of eLearning is the availability of a reliable Internet connection—be it in the workplace or for employees. True, materials can be accessed using mobile devices, but with the current state of Internet speeds in the country, this limits the available content that can be displayed in mobile devices. This means that videos and highly interactive and gamified content will have to wait when speeds are up to par with their requirements.

This also begs the question of who can access these eLearning materials. While it is true that most people have mobile devices today, it does not mean they have the capacity to access these eLearning materials. Some mobile devices may not have the capacity to run the necessary applications to have the intended learning experience. If the materials can only be accessed through a computer, you further limit the target audience for your materials, making eLearning ineffectual as a learning solution.

Another danger to eLearning is the lack of interaction with others. People learn in isolation as they navigate a course on their own. In the early days of distance learning, learners were required to read materials and answer case studies so that when the class meets, it is assumed you have something to contribute to the discussion. Nowadays, a common eLearning course means going through a series of videos and interactive quizzes (if you are lucky), or a series of articles you need to read. These lack the interaction necessary to foment ideas and critical thinking, especially when one encounters an opposing view. If an eLearning course is not designed properly, there is the danger of disillusionment when a learner discovers that the theory they learned in class does not apply to the real world.

eLearning has its advantages but when done incorrectly, it can become a crutch more than a stepping stone. Knowing which materials can be done through eLearning is the first step in understanding that not everything can be learned online. At the end of the day, it still depends on the learner why they are taking the online course and what they hope to achieve from taking it.

Image courtesy of Lara Far on Unsplash

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