Credit: John Llu - https://flic.kr/p/9beqom
Credit: John Llu – https://flic.kr/p/9beqom

I’ve been involved in delivering learning technology for some time now but recently as we’ve seen large vendors recognising a corporate marketplace, I’ve seen a common theme emerging – promises from vendors about how their systems will allow us to roll out courses efficiently, manage large enrolments and perform all manner of wonders around reporting and analytics. I’m sure that the systems will deliver on many of their promises (ok, that might be a slightly sarcastic view 😉 ) but the marketing copy seems to forget the most important component in the learning delivery chain – learners themselves.

There is absolutely no point in delivering and running a fantastically complicated LMS or VLE if its success is measured in terms of how many administration or line manager hours are saved, or insights that can be delivered via complex data analytics. Success should be measured in the simple terms of how well the learners are acquiring new knowledge and behaviours and are able to apply them in their working roles.

Now of course, it’s unfair to level the blame completely at the door of the technology vendors when at the end of the day the largest failings often lie with the organisations that are putting these systems in place. Quite simply, we as L&D organisations often have appropriate tools but without the knowledge of how to use them.

One of the promises we see touted for these technologies is that we can make training more available; often learners would struggle to get approval from managers for 3 or 4 days out of the office, or maybe it was too expensive to find flights and hotels for them to attend training. By converting a instructor-led course to a modular online course requiring an hour or two a week spread out over a month or so, the learners could find the time or budget to attend the training.

But in doing so, I’d argue that we devalued those courses – when there was a significant time or monetary cost to attending, learners and managers expected that greatest value would be wrung out of those scare resources but I’ve lost count of the number of times that I’ve spoken to learners who told me or seen messages in course discussion forums that learners are not being given time for their involvement in online courses, but that they’re expected to squeeze it in around their full-time work, often in evenings and weekends. Guess what often happens in these situations –  the learners will do the absolute minimum required to pass tests or get that end of course certificate.

We also removed an important part from those courses – face time, the opportunities to collaborate and network. All too often, we’ll throw in some slides, an e-learning module and if we’re really generous a conference call or online classroom. But we’ve either completely removed or severely limited the opportunities for learners to talk to the instructors and sometimes, more importantly, the other students. Often contact is one way, with the technology pushing content and activities at the learner, but with no opportunity to discuss or elaborate on the content being taught.

Finally, we’re also breaking our promises and failing to deliver our side of the bargain – when learners attended a course that included an assessment, they’d find out fairly quickly how they had fared. However, now we’ve isolated ourselves from the learners and I’ve seen situations where learners have been given deadlines to complete work and hand in assessments, but because we’ve removed our emotional investment in delivering the learning we no longer feel the need to be prompt in delivering our results. I’ve seen courses where learners hadn’t been told if they’d passed the course 2 or 3 months after completing their activities. Not surprisingly after learners had attended a few courses managed this way, they felt little compunction to meet those deadlines when we failed to do so.

However, it’s not all doom and gloom – we as learning organisations can deliver successful learning by living up to our side of the bargain and following some simple rules:

  • Ensure that we give learners time in their daily roles to engage and complete their online learning. This isn’t just assuming the quiz at the end of the course takes 30 minutes and so giving them a little time in their calendars. We need to allow time for the learners to read, reflect and discuss.
  • Look at how we can offer collaboration outside of the course confines – we could look at scheduling follow-up conference calls, or if we have social platforms, encourage their use.
  • We should recognise that the learners have given up their valuable resources and that we have an obligation to complete our post course obligations, and that often giving a score or pass isn’t enough; we need to give feedback to the learners on their weaknesses and strengths and allow them to discuss these.

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