What is wrong with e-learning?

E-learning is considered to be one of the least valued ways of learning in the organisation. So, why is this the case?  Here are some of the likely reasons.

Although many training departments recognised that spending long periods of time in a classroom was not effective and turned to e-learning to convert their face-to-face training into online courses, employees are often required to spend a considerable amount of time sitting in front of their computers working through online courses instead!

And,  as low-cost authoring tools made it easy – or rather too easy – to create e-learning, this resulted in a lot of  tedious “click-next-button” e-learning, which simply moves the user from one slide to the next.  Geeta Bose showed that this approach often causes people to become angry as they feel they are being treated like an idiot.

“Here’s what my training managers think of my ability to learn: I cannot spot Next and Back buttons. I need to be told, “Click Next to proceed.”

Do you know, I navigate using maps both offline and online – in fact I refer to them almost everyday on my mobile phone, laptop, and especially love my treasured paper maps. I operate DVD players, music system, home theatre, and the multiple remote control sets in my house with ease. What makes you think I cannot navigate back and forth through an eLearning course?”

There has also been a tendency for developers to add in all kinds of multimedia elements, which Cammy Bean calls “clicky-clicky bling bling”:

“Clicky-clicky bling-bling (CCBB) is elearning with lots of whizz and bang and clicking in an attempt to add pizazz to dry content and make it more engaging.”

Clark Quinn summed up this type of e-learning as “knowledge dumps tarted up with trivial interactions” ie quizzes that test superficial aspects of the content.

Individuals are also often forced to work all the way through an online course – that is every screen and every interaction – because course completion is deemed to mean they have “learned” the content. When, in fact, course completion tells you nothing about how an individual can apply what he/she has learned on the job. Individuals themselves are also frustrated they have to work through every part of an e-course if they already understand the content and can apply it. There is often little flexibility to move around the content; it all has to be done in a highly prescribed way.

It also annoys users when they can’t move forward until they have spent a specified amount of time on each screen (e.g. when compliance training requires they have to spend, say 2 hours on it). Jeff Kaplan has showed (in an online article that is no longer available) that employees frustrated with having to spend hours working on online compliance training often pay their children to click through it for them.

Donald Clark lists 25 ways to make your e-learning totally suck, which includes

“Over-engineered effects – too much distracting movement, effects, scrolling against fixed backgrounds and buzz makes my head spin – listen up – when I learn, less is more.”

And for those who think e-learning most appeals to younger generations – it doesn’t! Sean Graber makes this striking point

“HR managers adore e-learning, for instance, since they have been conditioned to evaluate everything on cost and scalability. Indeed, according to the Association for Talent Development, nearly 40% of corporate training in 2013 was delivered through technology, and that number is projected to grow. Unfortunately, a lot of e-learning is just plain awful.  My company recently surveyed 525 Millennials (people born after 1979) to understand their views on learning and leadership development. Though e-learning was among the most prevalent forms of leadership training, it ranked among those with the least impact — and it was the least desired among all other options. Tech-savvy Millennials are the most likely leaders-in-training to embrace e-learning, yet even they don’t.”

So why is “a lot of e-learning just plain awful“? Ethan Edwards offers a reason.

“Following tradition, doing what is recommended by many authoring tools, and patterning one’s work after many examples in the workplace is going to result in pretty ineffective e-learning … It’s interesting to contemplate why the field of e-learning perpetuates—and even encourages—ineffective practices for so long. In other fields, ineffective procedures become extinct. For example, doctors quit using leeches to bleed illness out of people when we realized it did no good. However in the field of e-learning, millions of dollars are spent each year on ineffective page-turners (“PowerPoint on Steroids” has become the common term) that authors, administrators, and learners alike freely admit are not even paid attention to as learners press NEXT as quickly as possible to complete.

Hence, although for some, the term e-learning means a wide range of online learning opportunities, for many it has unfortunately become synonymous with unappealing, click-next online courses.

In the modern workplace it is no longer just about improving the training/e-learning experience, it requires a new organisational learning culture or mindset that enables and supports continuous learning (in all its ways) at work. I call this Modern Workplace Learning (MWL).

⇒   What is Modern Workplace Learning?

Last updated: March 7, 2020 at 11:31 am