Have you ever wondered why so many eLearning initiatives fail? Maybe even yours? In many organisations the word ‘eLearning’ has even become a curse word or at least has negative connotations. Why? Because content isn’t provided as learning nugget? Because there are no social learning or gamification options in the online course? Because the target audience is not ready for the digital age yet?
Maybe. From my point of view the answer is a lot simpler:
We have not learnt our lessons yet in the physical world of classroom training.
As long as we haven’t learnt them we should be very careful with any corporate-wide digital transformation project. We could ruin our reputation in the organization from the very beginning.
My statement might sound conservative in a context of everybody talking about an all-embracing digital transformation. To underline my thesis I would like to make you familiar with the origin of the word transformation. It comes from Latin ‘transformare’ and means ‘change in shape or metamorphosis’. Therefore a digital transformation of learning describes a change of the form, not of the content of a training.
Once I merged this finding with common eLearning obstacles I came to astonishing insights:
- Why do I expect my eLearning to be interactive, if my classroom training wasn’t interactive either?
- Why should my eLearning have relevant content, if my classroom training was “data rich – information poor”?
- Why should my eLearning all of a sudden support our corporate strategy, if there wasn’t any correlation between classroom training and strategy before?
- Why do I expect my eLearning to contain blended-learning elements, if my classroom training hasn’t included them either?
- Why should my eLearning lead to a behavioral change of a learner and increase his productivity, if I have never considered these issues before when designing a classroom training?
It is an ancient wisdom that form and content have to go together. There has to be a correlation between them, otherwise there will be a mismatch.
What are potential mismatches when we enter the world of eLearning?
Online courses tend to be a lot shinier than classroom training. This can have two consequences: We either become dazzled by the shiny layout and don’t realize that the content is (still) poor, or we immediately realize the mismatch between high quality layout and irrelevant content.
In classroom training we are often “bribed” with a day off, a free lunch and yummy cookies to keep us from complaining about poor training.
With eLearning it’s different: quite often learners have to complete an online course during regular work hours. All of a sudden the content of an online training competes with the workload of a workday. Already after three minutes a learner has a good assessment of whether an online course is targeted at solving his challenges at work or not. In a full-day classroom training this revelation might not come until lunch…
Introducing eLearning in an organization is like turning on a strong light source: now it is crystal clear what a good and a bad training is. I am not talking about usability of an online course (I am aware that this is an important topic, too). I am just talking about training methodology (answering the question of how a training is being delivered) and didactics (answering the question of what is being delivered).
While ineffective classroom training can survive for decades (quite often under the cover of a corporate academy), eLearning turns on the spotlight and eliminates everything that might have been gray shaded before: now everything is either bright or dark, good or bad.
It’s very similar to a spring cleaning at home: you open all windows and doors to let in sunlight, in order to see the dust and the junk.
The door that prevented the sun to shed light on our classroom training is, to a great extend, the physical door of a seminar room. Once the door is closed and cookies and free lunch are served, it needs a lot of courage to speak up and complain about a bad training.
With online training it’s the opposite: it’s like delivering a training in a room that has glass walls, open doors and is transmitted to all offices, the factory and cafeteria at the same time. We can access an eLearning whenever we want and leave whenever we think a course is irrelevant to us. Everybody from shopfloor to top management can attend an eLearning – or not. If we are not forced to stay in such a “public training setting” until the end, the click-rates will tell the truth about relevance, methodology and didactics.
As eLearning normally addresses a larger audience than classroom training, it is logical that we identify weak spots in classroom training first before going online. If you are in a leadership position of L&D, why not attend the seminars of your own team to find out? Not for a few minutes, but for a whole day. I am sure all of us will be able to identify 80% of the irrelevant content or missing methodology right away. We just need to start “eating our own food” (as a good friend of mine used to say) and find out whether it needs some more spices – before 1000 other learners find out in the digital world.