E-learning is a boring distraction

Dec 05 2007 by Nic Paton Print This Article

A decade ago it was confidently predicted that online learning would consign the corporate classroom to dust.

Yet most managers still spend as little as half an hour a day using online resources to solve problems and only one in five has ever been exposed to a structured e-learning programme, according to new research.

A survey of nearly 1,000 managers and 12 large employers by the UK-based Chartered Management Institute and the Centre for Applied Human Resource Research has found that while nine out of 10 managers have internet access at their fingertips, most remain reluctant to use it as a tool for learning.

More than two thirds admitted to spending 30 minutes or less using company intranets, the internet or e-learning materials to solve a problem.

Just half had made use of online management resources in the past year and one in five had participated in a structured e-learning programme.

What was clear was that, in principle, managers were willing to learn and did see the internet as a key way to do this.

Nearly six out of 10 saw online learning as a powerful educational resource, something they could dip in and out of as time allowed.

A third welcomed the fact it was constantly available for reference and one in four recognised the cost-effectiveness of online resources.

Yet try and get them to sit down and learn something online and the outcome is very different, the CMI study also found.

Nearly half felt resistance to e-learning was caused by the "loss of the human touch", with nearly three quarters preferring face-to-face conversations and more than a third suggesting "tutor-led" learning and development was more effective.

For nearly half, the constant distraction of day-to-day management proved to be the biggest barrier.

And a fifth argued that the content they found on online courses failed to "engage" or interest them.

Nearly three out of 10 said they lacked the motivation to complete online courses, with 17 per cent blaming a lack of "appropriate support".

Jo Causon, director, marketing and corporate affairs at the Chartered Management Institute, said "There are clear business benefits to adopting e-learning models, but until organisations provide engaging development tools and support alongside these, uptake will continue to be slow.

"However, the integration of social networking with other online routes is likely to help this process, particularly as personal development will go beyond the boundaries of organisations," she added.

Where online learning did come into its own was in providing cost-effective, rapid and regular updates to employees and managers.

Compliance training, with core topics including discrimination and health and safety, were seen as particularly popular areas.

An analysis of the online methods used by managers showed that more junior managers used blogs, e-books, e-learning modules and social networking sites than higher level managers.

For example, 16 per cent of junior managers relied on blogs, against a tenth of directors.

There was a similar disparity when it came to using e-learning modules, with 40 per cent of more junior managers using them, compared with 22 per cent of their more senior counterparts.

"The results mean that those planning online learning need to carefully consider their audience," said Causon.

"Rather than rely on online learning for all, they should use it as an extra resource to traditional development programmes. In the medium-term richer content will widen the use of e-learning, but only as part of a dual blended solution," she added.