01 January 2005
E-learning myths dispelled
While e-learning is gaining ground in the corporate and manufacturing worlds, it isn't the be all and end all. There are some advantages and disadvantages to remember before you dive into the e-learning pool. Some say the quality of e-learning is what distinguishes it from other offerings. Training is key these days, but time is a very precious commodity. That is why e-learning is a very attractive proposition.
Although e-learning providers have a dazzling collection of titles, many of them aren't much better than a book online—totally passive and uninteresting. And it is unlikely e-learning will actually replace instructor-led training. No one can sit slumped in front of a computer screen for two days or get hands-on practical experience and talk to colleagues in a classroom setting. Perhaps in the future, but not at this time. A blended approach—a combination of e-learning and classroom-based learning—is an excellent combination right now.
E-learning won't actually make a dramatic improvement to the learning process. Thomas L. Russell reviewed the various technology platforms used over the past 75 years and concluded there was really no difference in the learning impact from the different media. Whether it was 16mm films, CDs, or the classical classroom, what makes the difference is the way you instruct. There is no substitute for a good quality instructor and well-designed, practical learning materials.
E-learning course preparation isn't really shortened either. The time taken to prepare is actually longer than for an existing classroom course. One recommendation calls for a minimum of three dry runs with complete presentations of the topic. Instructors may need to build in dummy interactivity, such as posed questions, if they are unsure about audience, either remote or perhaps of different cultures.
Here are some techniques to look for in effective e-learning courses:
- Do instructors use simulation techniques and provide guided tours through the materials?
- Do instructors use anecdotes and stories to lift interest level?
- Do instructors use demonstrations to show the participants how it's done?
A good course usually places the learning in a real-world context at all times to clearly show the benefits. Good instructors also design presentations and encourage participants to interact and work with each other to create team activities.
Future of e-learning
Future uses of e-learning could eliminate all the e-learning hype in the industry, especially as the e-learning environment starts to mature, causing a renewed emphasis on the participants learning the material effectively with demonstrable benefits for the company. The book on the Web will disappear as a key learning tool. No one will be naïve enough to try and promote this form of training. Proponents will emphasize a blended learning approach, treating e-learning as one component of the instructional process. We'll start to use more hand-held devices for mobile learning and form wireless networks for the backbone of an e-learning solution. We'll begin using more collaborative learning, video conferencing, simulation, and interaction between the learners to enhance the learning process.
Whether you're in manufacturing, processing, mining, or an electrical or water utility environment, if you want to start an e-learning program at your company, you must create a compelling value proposition for your company and individual participants. Get the right support in your company from the beginning of the project. Apply the right technology to your e-learning, and get it right the first time. Communicate repetitively and persistently to ensure participation. Measure the impact on the business.
Costs can vary dramatically depending on your requirements and budgets. A small business with three engineers wanting to get familiar with the latest Coriolis flow technology would cost less than a large multinational wanting to train 3,000 engineers worldwide in the latest safety instrumentation practice on IEC 61508 as applied to their new release of their instrumentation packages.
Behind the byline
Steve Mackay is technical director at IDC Technologies in West Perth WA, Australia.
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