2018 Review: Too Much Tech and Not Enough Human

If you’ve been reading my columns these last 10 months (and if so, thank you!) you’ll have noticed that I’m on a quest to identify the sources of dull eLearning. You would think that since eLearning will soon enter its third decade, we would have found the formula for better online training by now. Instead, it seems like the volume of dull eLearning is growing as fast as L&D executives ask for bigger budgets to upgrade to the next version of [insert name of technology here.]

So here’s a bold statement that some of you may not agree with, but one I’m convinced of: Our general approach is at fault. There is too much tech and not enough human interaction to help employees keep pace with our rapidly changing world.

2018 in review

In the spirit of the giving season, here are three year-end insights for L&D managers to ponder over the holidays.

1. An authoring tool alone does not create an effective and engaging learning solution. Human specialists are also required.

In my workplace we routinely use the most common eLearning authoring tools available, and have done so for 24 years. But we have watched with alarm as organizations reduce their training staffs while increasing their budgets for authoring tool licenses. We know from experience that even the best courseware cannot replace the training, skills, personality, and alchemy of a tight-knit L&D team. This usually includes an instructional designer, a graphic designer, and a programmer, each of whom provide expertise, inspiration, guidance, and oversight for one another and enhances the quality of their collective work.

An effective and engaging eLearning solution must feature great writing, appropriate and appealing supporting graphics, and clean, glitch-free programming. I know there are situations where one multitalented L&D superstar can do it all, but in most cases, asking one person to handle all these tasks (and do them well) is simply asking too much.

2. Do not replace manager-employee conversations and coaching with eLearning courses.

Managers are busy. Too often, however, eLearning courses are replacing necessary conversations between them and their employees. It is as important for managers to build relationships with each other in 2018 as it was in 1998, and as it will be in 2028.

Like parents at dinner time, maybe it’s time for L&D leaders to ask their teams to put down their tech and engage in face-to-face conversations in order to stay connected and become more aware of each other’s pain points and breakthroughs.

3. Don’t send employees an online survey about their training: ask them in person.

All those online Level 1 smile sheet surveys are also intended to replace a conversation in which the organization asks its employees, “Did that learning solution help you? If not, why? What else can we do to support you?”

As the L&D industry begins to focus on the need for evaluations beyond completion statistics and Level 1 satisfaction rates, should we not consider simpler methods that worked perfectly well before eLearning came along? Gather a group of employees, ask them for their honest feedback about the training they’ve received, and listen—really listen—to their responses. In person.

My hope for 2019

In 2018 I believe we saw too much tech and not enough human interaction. I have a large hope and small prediction for 2019: the answer to dull eLearning does not lie in more or upgraded technology. Instead, let’s remember that technology doesn’t always help humans improve performance. People need to be motivated and feel cared for in order to consciously improve their workplace behaviors and attitudes.

I’m not sure about you, but it’s never the meeting PowerPoint slides by themselves that stick with me after a thought-provoking presentation, or any TED talk. It’s the combination of an interesting, engaging, and skilled speaker who uses those slides to help the audience shift its thinking about the topic at hand.

So rather than turning to eLearning tech tools to replace human interaction, maybe it’s time to consider investing in more humans to put more human qualities in the training technology we already have.

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