I do think eLearning can be a good tool as part of an organizational learning strategy, especially since people cannot get together in close quarters like a classroom.  Your company can purchase ready-made classes by experts around the world and fit them nicely into the corporate Learning Management System, assigning them to employees with the click of a mouse. Or create your own with some kind of eLearning software, or use any webinar tool for distance learning.  But how can make sure the cost and time are worth it for the organization?

I look at eLearning in two ways. “Just in Case” and “Just In Time”     

It is often unavoidable that we must train people for the “Just in Case” scenario. We present policy or guidelines and hope that the information will still be retained when they need it. For example, about three months after reviewing an “Anti-Insider Trading” course online, I found myself sitting near two fellows in suits at a bar near Wall Street who were asking each other if they knew anything about the company I worked for at the time. My mouth opened, ready to say, “ Well, hey I work there’  when I realized they may be stockbrokers and shut my mouth, remembering the insider trading guidelines. Another example is an inexperienced leader realizing her employee is indirectly complaining about harassment six months after the last anti-harassment training.  With compliance-style training, when there is a lot to learn, keep it to minimum messages, that is all the learner will remember anyway.

The nature of this type of eLearning- somewhat dry, and heavy on the regulations makes it hard for learners to get through it with attention and interest. When purchasing or designing it, make sure to include elements that make the student think, especially about how to act in certain situations.

The best way to design the eLearning for Just in Case scenarios is to write likely case studies and ask participants how they would perform as part of the exercise/assessment section.  Enough of these should help them remember in the future when a similar scenario is presented. In addition, you could assign learners to do something with the training, such as meet with their staff to discuss the contents, do a project with a peer, or do an evaluation for compliance within their area/department.

A better way to use eLearning is “Just in Time” when learners and their leaders search for classes that meet their needs just as they are about to use new skills.   For example, a discussion between a supervisor and his manager uncovers the fact that the supervisor has not yet tried a true delegation activity to members of his team. The manager would like to free up the supervisor for more critical projects and has a discussion with him, assigning him to attend the eLearning course: The Basics of Delegation. After “attending” the eLearning class, they meet to discuss his next steps. The supervisor identifies several tasks to delegate and the levels of help and supervision he will need to give to each of the target employees. The manager approves and gives the supervisor three weeks to make assignments and monitor progress. They meet again and discuss results, learning, and the next steps. Then, the manager is able to appropriately delegate some higher-level projects to the supervisor, freeing up some of her valuable time so she can take the department to the next level.

In this way, eLearning is used like any other training method, to change behavior and bring performance to the next level. As you will notice, they use my favorite method:

Step 1: The needs assessment revealed that delegation behavior would help free up the supervisor’s time and allow a shift in responsibilities. Step 2: The eLearning training was targeted to fill that need. Step 3: The manager assigned, clarified and approved the delegation plan of the supervisor, then monitored for success. Step 4: The business need: We find the supervisor now has the time to work on other tasks. Now business can go on with new skills causing a jump in capability for the business!

In other words, as much as possible, the use of eLearning should be:

  1. Assigned when it can meet a need
  2. Designed to be interactive and applicable to the person’s job
  3. Can be reinforced somehow through a real job scenario.
  4. Evaluated to see if students are using the new skills

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