- The brain needs a logical flow and hierarchy to connect new information to existing information
- Workforce training content needs to be visual, applicable and experiential to aid rapid comprehension
- Even the most motivated people need the structure of a deadline and a sense of accountability
I am often asked if e-learning really works, which always feels like someone is asking me about a new diet or workout fad. Did cutting out all those carbs really work? Did attending a massive online open course on theoretical physics really work? The truth is: The only way it works is if you do the work. Any claims to the contrary are a modernized version of snake oil.
But there are some fair questions to ask: What activities or support must be present to ensure e-learning efforts are set up for success? What does a smart e-learning program need to avoid? When it doesn’t work, what are the main reasons why? Here are three key reasons:
- There is no plan. Curriculum may be a boring word, but it’s an important one. We group concepts, learning objectives and outcomes for a good reason: People need to know what they are learning, why they are learning it, and how concepts relate to each other. You cannot simply send someone to a course and hope for the best. The brain needs a logical flow and hierarchy to connect new information to existing information. Whenever you introduce concepts, you need a plan – no form of learning works well without one.
- There are no visuals. Very few people can truly comprehend and assimilate information and complex concepts just by reading about them. Yet so many of our teaching materials rely on text alone, with minimal effort devoted to assisting learners with actually processing that information. In formal education systems, forcing students to acquire strong reading comprehension skills and developing personal responsibility with note-taking, planning and studying are often essential parts of the plan and purpose behind text-based readings. However, in workforce training – where time off a job is often quite costly – content needs to be visual, applicable and experiential to aid rapid comprehension.
- There is no deadline. People need structure and accountability. E-learning affords incredible access to information and skills, helping to equalize and democratize opportunities for people to achieve their goals and excel in their careers. But even the most motivated among us need a deadline and a sense of accountability – what we need to do with the training, and by when we need to do it. This kind of accountability management doesn’t have to be punitive. Leaders can facilitate discussions on the content in meetings, offer positive opportunities for learners to display their work and ideas in the course, and even select the best innovations from the training as something for the team to implement.
These may seem like simple reasons that e-learning fails, but they occur so often that it is important to call out their relevance. Any investment in the time and effort it takes to conduct an e-learning training program should warrant a plan, good content, and a clear sense of when and how the work is due. With these foundational pieces in place, you’ll be ready for success.
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