Back in the dark ages of e-learning, savvy developers knew that the key to a quality learning experience was to include some of the winning aspects of a classroom session: information, hands-on exercises, ability to get feedback, and so forth. But now, the pendulum has swung back, and it seems that the elements particular to e-learning are being incorporated into the classroom. Why?
Perhaps it's because as learners become more exposed to and comfortable with e-learning, particularly its just-in-time nature, their expectations for any learning experience--including classroom sessions--are changing. And as those expectations change, so must classroom trainers adapt their techniques and approaches.
"We got into e-learning to attract people who never got into the classroom," says Leslie Darling, chief learning officer at Element K. "But now, it's definitely affecting classroom behavior. People wander in and out of conference sessions as never before. If they don't immediately see what they're looking for, they leave."
Further, Darling believes that e-learning, being more self-directed, has encouraged people to assert their right to choose. She notes that in the past, managers often chose what courses employees would take but didn't necessarily communicate the learning objectives. E-learning "forces participants into a needs analysis role," she says. "They're expected to bring something back, so they try to be more efficient with their time."
Others aren't so sure. "People have always voted with their feet," says Kit Horton of William Horton Consulting. "But I don't think people are so comfortable with e-learning yet that it's changing their behavior." Although Horton doesn't believe learners have expectations based on their computer use, she does think that "people who have grown up on television have shorter attention spans. They want to see something happen." To reach those learners, trainers create presentations with lots of live demonstrations and simulations--interactivity that has evolved as it has traveled from lab to e-learning and back to the classroom.
E-learning has also made training a part of everyone's job. When you can locate and pass along information quickly to help people do their work, you're performing a training function. "We're combining work and learning more efficiently," says Darling--and that, too, has had an effect on people's classroom expectations. "It has really diminished our tolerance for long classes," she says.
What can training professionals do to accommodate those changing expectations? First, says Mike Groszko, manager of the DaimlerChrysler Quality Institute, make sure the medium fits your message. "The capabilities of each medium attract different kinds of content. Both are effective; the challenge is to do the right things to improve learning. That can happen in both venues if it's done well."
Many learning professionals find that they're using classroom time more judiciously. "You must use the classroom for what it's best for," says Darling. She cites problem solving, dynamic feedback, and collaboration as activities that are most effective in a classroom setting.
Take mundane tasks out of the classroom, suggests Susan Musselman, global director of training for Six Sigma at Starwood Hotels and Resorts. Send materials in advance, and post them on the Web. "That way, we're able to accomplish more in the classroom. We can do more in the same amount of time." Diane Valerioti, manager of learning and development at Donovan Data Systems, agrees. "E-learning will never replace the classroom entirely. There will always be a need for customized, face-to-face instruction." But to make the most of her customers' training rime, she pushes them to the Web for documentation and help after a class. …