Marc My Words: eLearning Myths, Part 2

Written By

Marc Rosenberg

November 08, 2011

Last month, I proposed five eLearning myths around design, development, and deployment. The interesting thing about myths is that they evoke a wide array of responses, from “it’s about time someone said this,” to “he’s full of it.” Where were you?

This is a Two-part Article

Let’s move forward. This month’s mythological food-for-thought focuses on six eLearning myths that are more strategic in nature.

Myth #6: eLearning will eliminate the classroom

We've heard this one for years (decades?). Classrooms are so inefficient, we’re told, that we simply can't afford them. Besides, the mobile, decentralized workforce has no time to go to class. Not so fast! There may be less of it down the road, but ignoring the classroom is perilous.

An outgrowth of the "blended learning" movement has been a much better understanding of the value of classroom training, especially when augmented with eLearning. Classroom resources, and instructors, are costly, so we must use them carefully. There's no doubt that what we teach in classrooms – and how we teach it – will change; from lectures to labs, from basic content to more sophisticated concepts and applications, from the teacher as the source of all knowledge to a trusted and valuable in-class facilitator and coach.

The classroom will evolve to an essential place where knowledge first gained online is applied in group settings, in new and interesting ways, through teamwork, case studies, simulations, and problem solving experiences. The classroom becomes more of a place where learning is applied.

Myth #7: Employees hate eLearning.

Not true! Employees hate bad eLearning. And, too often, that's much of what they've seen so who can blame them? When the reaction to eLearning is negative, the finger always seems to point to their dislike of the medium. And while eLearning is touted as more convenient (take it any time and any place), convenience gets old if the value is not there. On the other hand, when someone takes an eLearning course that is well designed, highly interactive, features the right content, is highly personalized for the learner's needs, is conveniently available, and doesn't waste their time, the reaction is almost always positive.

Myth #8: Executives hate eLearning.

Again, not true! Executives hate eLearning that doesn’t work, shows no business benefit, costs more than promised, and takes too long to develop and deploy. More than anything, they want measures of effectiveness that they can relate to. And despite our wish that it were otherwise, they are not necessarily interested in “learning,” per se.

It’s nice, they would say, but can people do anything with what they’ve learned? To execs, business performance and organizational results are what matters. To the extent that learning contributes to that, great. But if you can’t show business value, you can’t blame them when they grow tired, from their perspective, of throwing good money after bad. Show executives that eLearning works in their world and you have a friend for life.

Myth #9: ELearning makes sense because it lowers the cost of travel to classroom training and eliminates the need for multiple instructors.

True, but insufficient. Reducing travel and staff does lower costs, but since time is money, the biggest payoff is speed. Yes, eLearning development costs more and may take more time, and you have to factor that in, but over the life cycle of the training, combined development and delivery time is likely to be significantly shorter, especially as the learner population grows and you’ve planned the projects  well. Reducing the time it takes to train people – and get them back into productive work – is what really makes the business case.

Think about it this way: what are the real organizational costs when people have to wait, sometimes for months, to take a class? What are the cost savings when you can deliver a five-day classroom course more efficiently online in far less time? What are the benefits when the employee is back on the job, having spent significantly less time away from work in a training session?

Even if the amount of learning gained in an online course is the same as in a classroom course, the eLearning program will pay for itself just through its contribution to productivity alone.

Myth #10: The more eLearning courses, the better.

Not necessarily! Which is better: an organization with a thick online catalog of eLearning titles on any number of topics – a smorgasbord of courses to ensure something for everyone – or an organization that offers only one online course that profoundly improves individual and organizational performance and adds to the bottom line? How many online courses are enough? 100? 200? 500? More is not necessarily better; less may be more. Measure the impact of your eLearning, not its volume.

Myth #11: Everyone understands what eLearning is.

This is perhaps the biggest myth of all. Increasingly, eLearning escapes a simple definition. Some equate eLearning with eTraining.  Peter Senge, author of The Fifth Discipline and one of the coiners of the term “learning organization,” once noted, “The confusion between training and learning is fatal.”

ELearning includes eTraining, but is, in reality, a much bigger concept, taking into consideration a host of non-training strategies, such as informal learning, performance support, access to information (rather than access to instruction), online mentoring and coaching, collaboration and communities of practice, social media, and more. Truth is, we are always learning, but we are clearly not always being trained – either in class or online. It’s no wonder our definitions and perceptions of eLearning are constantly changing and debated. Perhaps the term “eLearning” just doesn’t fit anymore and is starting to outlive its usefulness. What do you think?

So there you are – eleven eLearning myths for you to debunk or defend. Of course, I might have left a few of your favorites out. Whatever your view on the myths of eLearning, questioning existing beliefs, norms, and practices can be very helpful. Try new things, learn from your efforts, and ask a lot of questions about the way things are, and should be. Healthy skepticism of the status quo is the first act of myth busting. Have at it.

My thanks again to Lance Dublin for contributing some of these myths and debating them with me.

 

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