Train the Trainer eCourse: Microlearning Nuggets
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The eLearning Challenge!

Written By Shalini Merugu

The eLearning Challenge!

In an ideal world, learning strategists and practitioners sold on eLearning would effortlessly decide on the kinds of exciting courses learners in their organization required and immediately get a generous budget sanctioned from executive management (without having to turn cartwheels to sell the idea of online training). They’d then spend an enjoyable time shopping for vendors for design and development before zeroing in on the perfect eLearning provider. Or if they had the talent in-house, they’d build that dream eLearning solution, without any glitches whatsoever.

The organization would of course have the required technological know-how to ensure that the courses are hosted on a platform accessible to all, while providing excellent reporting and tracking abilities. They would then roll out the eLearning courses which would be met with overwhelming enthusiasm across their organization. Learners would be so excited with the eLearning initiative that they would even be willing to get trained in their own time. The executive leadership would finally commend everyone on a job well done and they would all live happily ever after. <Regrettable end of fantasy>

In the real world, eLearning, as with any other change initiative, has its share of hurdles and challenges.

For the learner, eLearning is not likely to work if he/she is not the type to take charge of his/her learning. Even if learners were self-driven, sometimes their experience with shoddy eLearning courses in the past would have made them develop an aversion for this medium. It’s difficult to turn this attitude around without very strong change management initiatives that include creating a culture of eLearning. The skeptics have to sample something good before they take to eLearning. Here is where the importance of a high visibility, high impact pilot course with tangible benefits on completion can go a long way in turning the cynical or the hesitant type around.

The biggest challenge learning practitioners have to face is to create a culture of eLearning. If learners don’t participate, then there is no improvement in their performance, if there is no improvement, there is no business impact for the organization, if there is no impact, there is no further commitment from leadership, with leadership not being clearly committed, learners have no incentives, and so the vicious cycle continues.

A cohesive strategy that makes everyone successful is critical to the success of the eLearning mission in the long run. Stakeholders need to be able to see a demonstrated impact, learners need to see the benefits, and learning practitioners need see how it helps them impact the business goals of the organization. A win-win strategy would include the right kind of eLearning projects, the right vendors, the right people on the team, and the right motivation for taking up eLearning.

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  • Veronika Delvaux

    I believe by far the biggest challenges are computer illiterate students and faculty. Teachers who are afraid of technology, especially when confronted with new ways on how to better and more effectively approach learning.

  • M Shalini

    True Veronica. One of the biggest challenges learning practitioners face is in creating a culture of eLearning – especially when learners and instructors are not computer literate. Which is where evaluating the current learner and instructor capability in that eLearning implementation scenario plays a big role before the rollout of any eLearning initiative. A preliminary audience analysis can help eLearning professionals to work with the respective training departments to come up with a well-thought out strategy to address this challenge. For eLearning to be successful in such situations, it calls for a radical shift in the mindset of all people involved in the initiative as well as orienting and training learners and instructors on using computers. Merely setting up state-of-the-art computer labs or having a couple of motivational talks by the CEO is not enough to get their buy-in.

    We’ve seen eLearning implementation scenarios where the end learners were personnel (such as shop floor employees) whose job actually didn’t involve working with computers at all, but who had to take up eLearning courses to comply with certain legal and regulatory mandates. These employees were successful in adopting eLearning because their organizations had a sound change management strategy in place so that by the time employees had to take up eLearning courses, they were equipped with the required computer skills, their resistance to this mode was overcome through gradual orientation, and their apprehensions about this medium had been addressed by highlighting the benefits of this mode. Instructors who need to conduct live eLearning events (such as virtual trainings, webinars etc) will need suitable orientation and practice programs as well.

    A winning eLearning deployment strategy needs to be comprehensive enough to address all aspects of this eLearning challenge!

  • Carl Facciponte

    Well stated to all. I absolutely believe that elearning can be a thoroughly enjoyable, productive, and focused learning vehicle. All one has to do is just watch kids, and many adults, playing video games to see that electronic media is extremely effective to engage the participants.

    The REAL issue is producing elearning that people actually WANT to take. It isn’t a huge trick to do, and certainly doesn’t have to have all of the features of a video game. As an Instructional Technologist, the issue I see that stops the development of good elearning is the time to develop.

    ASTD and ISPI, along with other educational groups, publish average ratios of development hours per presentation hour. Through my years of training development experience I’ve found that the more we vary from these numbers the lower the final quality of our product is. Some of the ratios can be reduced if you are also a Subject Matter Expert, but not by more than 20%.

    If you are working for a company you may not have the luxury of being granted the appropriate development-to-presentation ratio (20-25:1 for non-technical courses for example. This time also includes meetings.) An independant training designer may frequently talk have more leverage with their client to agree on hours that are closer to the recommended ratios. To do this I will almost always draw the Good, Fast, Cheap triangle for my clients. I tell them that in real life they can pick any two sides of the triangle but the third side floats (or self adjusts). Therefore if you want the training to be good and want a fast development cycle, it will not be cheap to produce. If you want it fast and cheap, it will not be very good.

    When presented like this, most managers will generally strike the right balance of all three for their company needs (instead of hammering on just time and price) and end up with a better overall product.

    We all need to keep striving to produce the most engaging training we can, while all the time understanding that at some level the cost to produce will certainly come into play. One of our many key jobs is to educate those who hold the purse strings.

  • M. Shalini

    Carlos, you are spot on in your analysis of decision makers being sometimes blind (sometimes even deliberately so) to the issue of inadequate development time leading to poor course quality. I like your good, fast, and cheap triangle illustration! I agree with you that when we can demonstrate powerfully to decision makers that any undue emphasis on just 1 or 2 parameters drastically affects the rest, it makes them more open to looking at a balanced approach.

    I guess sometimes there is a danger of too little development effort being allocated in scenarios where courseware developers are using rapid authoring tools. We need to correct any mistaken assumptions on development effort and let everyone who matters know that Rapid eLearning is NOT Instant eLearning. You are right about the need to educate stakeholders. The earlier the better – before budgets get frozen and the long-drawn battles begin!

    I agree that we need to provide an engaging learning experience for our learners – and if that comes with a price, organizations need to be willing to pay up. After all, for the benefits it delivers, this type of learning will soon pay for itself.

    Thanks for your inputs Carlos!

  • M. Shalini

    Carlos, since we are on the subject of development costs, here’s an interesting post on The Rapid eLearning Blog on saving on costs by reusing stuff you may already have, especially in scenarios where you have limited resources: http://www.articulate.com/rapid-elearning/3-simple-ways-to-find-the-resources-you-need-to-build-e-learning-courses/.

  • M. Shalini

    Veronica, do join us for an upcoming, free, live webinar on 1-2-3 Steps To Sell eLearning In Your Organization. In addition to other aspects of helping promote eLearning in organizations, this webinar also specifically addresses the issue of helping non-computer literate employees adopt eLearning.

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