The problem with online learning

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learning-onlineOver the last few years we have seen a massive surge in the use of online learning for the delivery of training and development.  Companies are seizing on the opportunity to make training more accessible, more flexible, less time consuming, less costly and having less impact on the day to day running of the business/organisation.

With all of these benefits, it’s hard to see the pitfalls of using this method of delivery for the bulk of your training and development.

I have been working with a client who has just implemented a blended learning programme for some of their workforce.  This was their first foray into the online learning world and they were (rightly) proud of their efforts.  On paper, this approach was going to allow learners to access the online component at a time that was suitable for them.  The business is staffed 24-hours a day, so in theory people could complete the training regardless of which shift they were on.

This was was also going to save the company thousands in facilitators fees and staff salary costs.  Now, instead of someone having to attend 3 full days of classroom based training, they only have to attend a couple of short reflection modules which are facilitated on their premises, with 2/3 being run per day.

It sounds brilliant.  People get their theoretical knowledge at a time that’s convenient for them. They have the chance to mull over what they have learnt, but also get the opportunity to explore the main themes in a facilitated session, where any questions they have can be answered and explored.

Unfortunately, this plan relies heavily on some fundamental assumptions:

1.  That people will have the time to complete the online learning modules.  When training is provided online, it is easy for managers to say “fit it in when you can”, but when you already have a full workload, this can be really tricky.  It’s easy for online learning to be “bumped” down the priority list by the very fact that it IS always available.

2. That people will work through the material in the modules and not just skim through it or skip to the assessment at the end.  Unless people are really bought into the need to complete a particular online module, there is every possibility that they won’t actually work through the material in any meaningful way.  Instead, they will try and complete it whilst also taking phone calls, speaking to colleagues or replying to emails.

3.  That the technology will actually work!  Technical problems do occur.  Whether it’s with the online programme itself, the broadband or the computers that people are using.  The most common “technical” problem is of course with people forgetting their password to access the modules so building in a good “forgotten password” solution is vital.

If you are going to have real success with online learning, it would be prudent to think about how you are going to address these issues before you actually launch your learning solution.

Share your experiences of online learning by commenting below.  What have you done to address the issues raised in this post?




Founder of Zostera Ltd and The Trainers CPD Club. I've worked in L&D for over 16 years across both the public and private sectors.

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