e-Learning Part 1: I’m going ‘All Aboard’ the Online Training train! But where is the train going and how do I find the station?

There’s no training like e-Learning, there’s no training like e-Learning, there’s no training like e-Learning. Can I get there by clicking my heels 3 times? If only it was as easy as Dorothy made it look to bring it all home! But the reality is that most organizations are struggling with the process of transitioning to this promising training format; the movement towards e-Learning is a tricky one if not carefully planned and executed. Generally, organizations do understand the basic benefits of transitioning legacy content into educationally sound online material – such benefits as reduced travel, less burden on instructors, elimination of facilities costs, and greater outreach. But the questions that keep e-Learning initiatives from getting off the ground are: Where do I even begin? Where do I find the budget to develop online training? How do I ensure that my training is educationally-sound and appropriate for my adult learner population? Do I want the Local Train or the Bullet Train? As is the case with any other discipline, there is a growing contingent of “experts” in the marketplace offering promises to solve all learning problems. However, before an expert can help you solve your problems, you need to understand what it means to solve your problem. You need to decide whether you simply need to get the train running to maintain status-quo (the Local Train) or develop a dependable service that not only brings the train into the station every time but does so at a much faster pace (the Bullet Train). The most important part about learning is simple: Have learners retained the knowledge they’ve acquired? Research indicates that higher retention occurs when content appeals to various learning styles. Therefore, ensuring a positive answer to the retention question can be challenging. Where e-Learning is concerned, it’s more difficult for the learner to simply raise their hand and say, “I don’t understand.” Therefore, it’s critical that your e-Learning program provides this support to learners. So, how do you determine whether you need the local rail or the bullet train? This question can only be answered by answering a few others first:
  • What are the goals of the organization?
  • How crucial is this training to the organization’s ability to meet such goals?
  • Are the training objectives and business objectives properly aligned?
  • What kind of standard do we want to set?
Once you answer these questions, you can begin to zero in on the investments necessary to ensure not just a successful e-Learning initiative but the right e-Learning initiative. Has the train been properly inspected before it leaves the station? A common error made by organizations as they begin their transition to e-Learning is to assume they can take their existing legacy material and convert it directly into online material. This is a sure-fire way for learners and stakeholders (“passengers”) to get stuck on the tracks, frustrated in the money and/or time they just invested on that ticket to nowhere. Because an instructor (conductor) is present, Instructor-led materials are developed with a very different objective than online training. Online training is like an automated train, in that all of the materials to run the train are self-contained – no conductor required. In learning, we call this a “Learner-Centric Environment,” all of the tools and resources that the learner needs to succeed are built in the content. The first step in building learner-centric materials is analyzing existing legacy materials to determine the following:
  • Is the current training broken and therefore worth the investment in repurposing to e-Learning format?
  • Is the material up-to-date and does it reflect the current needs of the learner?
  • Are the objectives written at a level of cognition that is sufficient for e-Learning (Bloom’s Taxonomy) to ensure learning transfer?
  • What level of repurposing is required to transition into e-Learning?
If your train needs a tune-up to run properly, you need the right amount of investment to make that happen. Do you only have budget available for a quick-fix that will, at best, usually get the train to the station or have you received organizational support to buy a new engine that guarantees consistent on-time arrival? The answer to this question is important when developing your e-Learning budget. Obtaining stakeholder sign-off remains one of the more significant challenges for our clients who are developing internal training for their employees. The vast majority of organizations perceive training as a cost, rather than an investment. However, according to Josh Bersin (2006), if your training is well-aligned to organizational goals, you will rarely be asked to rationalize expenditures: For example, you want to improve sales of a particular type of cell phone. You conduct research that finds that your sales force lacks updated sales skills. You decide to develop a course that will equip your employees with more innovative sales skills - many of them have not taken a sales course in several years. You measure the effectiveness of the new training once it has been implemented. If you consistently develop effective training that improves employee performance, you show your stakeholders the added value of training to the organization’s bottom-line. It is also important to always invest in high-impact training – training that is going to provide the organization with the greatest tangible and intangible results. Indirect benefits of investing in education include evidence that employees generally stay with companies that are willing to invest in their employees’ future success. Consider the following research, “Training makes individuals feel more confident which, in turn, increases their engagement and commitment to the company which, in turn increases their loyalty and productivity.” (Bersin, 2006). Employee turnover is very costly to an organization - you should be doing everything you can to avoid it! What next? You’ve determined what kind of training your organization needs. You’ve determined if your training needs to be repaired. You’ve determined the budget required to make the necessary repairs. You’ve even gotten your stakeholders excited enough to fund your budget. Now what? Your next step is identifying what delivery methods you will need to effectively deliver the material. We will discuss this in Part 2: I’m going ‘All Aboard’ the Online Training train! But where is the train going and how do I find the station?
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