Electronic Cognition: Many Early Adopters of E-Learning Have Got So Excited about the New Technology That They Have Forgotten the Basics of Learning. Alan Waterfield Recommends a More Balanced Approach. (People Management)

Article excerpt

E-learning is yet another market that, according to the usual suspects, is destined to grow into a multi-billion-pound industry in the next three years. It's the hottest topic in training, and its proponents say that it will revolutionise how people learn and transform the economics of the process. But, given the current climate of narrowing margins and tightening budgets, is it something you can't afford to ignore or simply something you can't afford?

E-learning represents the move of training away from the classroom and on to the desktop PC or mobile device using a range of electronic media, including the internet. Its supporters paint a compelling picture of the benefits: reduced operational costs; the delivery of bite-sized chunks of knowledge where and when required; increased control over how the information is delivered; and the ability to tailor the material to match the needs of individual trainees. It also gives the trainees greater flexibility over when and where they can learn.

Most importantly, a fully implemented e-learning solution, using a learning management system (LMS) to plan, deliver and track each individual's training, allows HR departments to cut many of their administrative overheads and focus on activities such as recruiting, career development and face-to-face counselling.

Of course there are some drawbacks to e-learning. Some of the things that can make it so useful can also cause tension and could demotivate your staff if handled badly. Chief among these is the "Big Brother effect"--an LMS that can plan, deliver and track your training automatically can be seen as invasive. Some LMSs are designed to record exactly what has been viewed by the trainee and for how long, in addition to reporting test scores and failed attempts. These metrics are clearly useful from the training department's viewpoint, but if the culture of your organisation is not compatible with such an open approach to measuring training performance, people will be switched off by e-learning.

Another area where too much e-learning could be seen as a bad thing is the breakdown of cultural sharing and networking that typifies classroom-based training. Other issues that need to be addressed include how to cater for individuals who aren't comfortable with the technology, and how to ensure that people do not feel there is implicit pressure on them to do their e-learning outside the workplace or out of hours.

In the same way that many companies neglected the commercial element of e-commerce, early adopters of e-learning have tended to focus too much on the technology and have forgotten the basic concepts of learning. After all, this is about training--the "e" simply represents a new delivery channel.

The solution is to evade the trap of viewing e-learning as a panacea. …