E-learning: Is that how YOU learn?

It seems to be the perennial challenge for L&D leaders: how do you get your employees to want to engage with e-learning? It’s comparatively easy to get employees to complete online compliance training – you just threaten them. But for building the capability of knowledge workers, I still think e-learning is yet to deliver on its promise.

We’ve tried everything we can think of, from whizzy animations, ‘real-life’ scenarios, game-design, leaderboards, and interactivity. There are an abundance of tactics aimed at grabbing and holding the attention of employees long enough to make a difference but despite these, (and at the admission of its providers) e-learning notoriously ‘struggles to retain, engage and motivate learners’ to an extent that could really impact upon an organisation’s people development goals.

I see this time and again. But rather than asking: ‘what new fangled ways can we now try to gain take-up of our company e-learning?’, perhaps we can ask a different question, one that gets to the heart of the problem…

Is that how YOU learn?

I’ve been asking this question to L&D professionals for quite some time and have yet to experience positive acknowledgement that those who source or create e-learning actually learn this way themselves. I’ve only once had a challenge to this question and was subsequently told that whilst he didn’t develop himself with e-learning, it just wasn’t his preferred learning style!

It’s now widely recognised that more than 70% of employees will go to web-search as a first port-of-call to learn what they need for their jobs – and I’m willing to bet that they’re not searching for an e-learning course.

For me, there is a clear distinction between ‘e-learning’ and ‘learning online’. We might learn online when we use web-search to find answers, definitions, or in-depth information on a given topic that helps us to do our job. When we engage in online forums, seek credible ‘experts’, search YouTube for ‘how-tos’, TED talks for inspiration, etc., so that within a relatively short amount of time, we can equip ourselves with the information or know-how we seek. And just to be ultra-clear, what I mean by e-learning can be understood when reading most people’s faces when you ask the question: “What do you think of your company’s e-learning?”

According to Towards Maturity’s latest benchmarking report, employees do want to learn online and the top 3 reasons they are motivated to do so are:

  • To do their job faster and better
  • For personal development
  • To increase their productivity

Whilst only 10% want to compete against colleagues for a high score.

So, despite notoriously low-engagement, how come e-learning is still bought and served as the default technology solution in so many organisations?

We all know the rationale: classroom training is condensed online thus extending the reach of L&D, saving money, and ensuring a consistent experience for all – whilst reporting on ‘completion’ (or not). But I wonder whether L&D’s persistence with e-learning has more to do with the IKEA effect – this being the ‘cognitive biasin which consumers place a disproportionately high value on products they partially created’?

For one moment though, let’s think about what we could achieve if people wanted to engage with the organisation’s online learning offering? As a strategic L&D leader, I’m interested in higher-performance, increased productivity, building internal capability, and improving the prospects of employees. All of which can only be done with engaged learners who will lead their own development inside an organisation’s learning systems rather than go straight to web-search when they want to learn.

So rather than thinking: which subjects can we drop into e-learning? Perhaps we can find out how to best appeal to employees with online learning that engages them on their own terms? If we did this, I’m not sure we’d be serving e-learning at all. I may be wrong!? To check this, however, take a look at how you actually learn online today – not how you think you should but how you actually do – and then ask peers, friends and colleagues. This could provide you with some valuable insights into how employees for want to learn, too.

It’s time now to choose the learning technology that truly supports the people development goals within our organisations.

Please let me know with your comments.

This post originally appeared in TrainingZone, January 2016

David James is Chief Learning Strategist with Looop and a seasoned Talent Management, Learning & OD leader with nearly 20 years of experience in the field. Until recently, David was Director of Talent, Learning & OD for The Walt Disney Company’s EMEA region.

Looop help their clients all over the world to digitally transform their L&D and capitalise on how people really want to learn today with a platform that is renowned for its extraordinary levels of learner engagement.

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