E-Learning is great, but not a panacea

2004

For the past few years, E-learning has been the big buzz in the training world. Managers and leaders are drawn to E-learning for some obvious reasons. Here are just a few:

- Learning can take place one person at a time, at a time convenient to the learner.
- Learners can access material anywhere in the world. No need to gather all students together in one place at the same time – a huge cost savings.
- Pay for classroom instruction once (the development of the material) and then it’s usable over and over again. More savings.
- Learners can go at their own pace to ensure they absorb the material.

But decision makers need to realize the pros, cons, and limitations of E-learning’s capabilities.

For one example, a major TV network affiliate in Boise requires all new employees to complete an E-learning module to understand the company’s sexual harassment policy. The module must be completed on the first day of work, and a passing score on the quiz included in the module generates a “certificate of completion,” which the new employee must print out and turn in to HR before the end of the day.

This is a good example for how E-learning works best; conveying knowledge and understanding. This is because knowledge and understanding are the two foundational levels of what, in education, is known as the cognitive domain. Let me explain.

Without presenting a full-fledged college course, three “teachable” domains exist:

- Cognitive (the realm of mental skill),
- Psychomotor (the realm of physical skill), and
- Affective (the realm of beliefs and attitudes).

Each domain has several “levels,” each one being a prerequisite to the next. For example, you can’t intelligently apply the concept of 2 + 2 = 4 until your first know what “2” and “4” represent and understand the process of addition. So knowledge must come first, understanding occurs second, and both are followed by application. The remaining levels of the cognitive domain (analysis, synthesis, and evaluation) are built upon these first three.

In the same way, a machine operator must know the names of each part of his machine and understand what each part does before he can apply such knowledge and understanding and be productive.

Why is this important? Because we have to know what E-learning can and can’t do in the various levels of learning.

It’s easy to figure out that E-learning does not work well for teaching physical skills. We can sit through umpteen learning modules on how to ride a bike, but until we get on one and push the pedals with our own feet, well, you get the picture.

But E-learning can be used to educate a rider on the names of a bicycle’s components (knowledge) and how the bicycle’s gears work (understanding). It can even be used to communicate the concept of maintaining balance. This communicating of fundamental knowledge and understanding is where E-learning can save boatloads of time (and money) in the workplace.

At the Idaho Nuclear Engineering and Environmental Laboratory (INEEL), classroom training occurs a LOT. The federal government mandates a slew of training for people working with things nuclear. But such training is expensive if it’s conducted classroom style. The director of training at the INEEL says he must budget $100 per person for each hour of seat time.

Yet the INEEL has wisely determined that E-learning can be used for some classes where knowledge and understanding are the only topics. The cost? Only $35 per person per hour of seat time.

Besides a limit on what can be taught via E-learning, limitations also exist in the form of technological barriers. Some corporations - even large ones - are way behind in establishing the high-speed networks required for many E-learning applications. More than one corporation has told me they can’t use E-learning because their system isn’t set up to handle it.

Still, leaders will do well to look into how E-learning can save their company time and money. It offers a lot, and frankly, it’s not going away. Plus, the advantages are such that those who choose to ignore E-learning will find themselves falling behind those who make use of it.

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About The Author

Dan Bobinski
Dan Bobinski

Dan Bobinski is a training specialist, author, and an accomplished keynote speaker. He's been providing management and leadership training to Fortune 500 companies as well as smaller, regional concerns for more than 20 years.