Friday, 11 January 2008

Limits of e-learning?

People often tell me that they believe e-learning is great for information exchange but not for behavioural change, that it’s good for factual, knowledge-based learning, but not skill or competence development.

I don’t think this is true.

The reason people believe this is because of the limitations of e-learning programmes they have seen or can imagine, not the limitations of e-learning’s potential. It would be true to say that, so far, it is easier to develop e-learning that meets knowledge rather than skill needs, but this is changing.

I’ve created a matrix to show the impact of different kinds of e-learning. Each of the two dimensions that form the axes of this matrix is a continuum. On the horizontal axis, the continuum is from knowledge to skill.
Learning can include varying proportions of knowledge acquisition and skill development, some learning being very fact-based and other learning being more about acquiring a capability. Thus all learning can be placed somewhere on this continuum.

On the second, vertical, axis, there is a continuum from generic to bespoke content.

The content of a learning programme can be common to the needs of any organisation, or it can be specific to the needs of a particular organisation. It needn’t be entirely generic or 100% bespoke, but can be placed somewhere along the continuum.

Putting the axes together yields a classic two-by-two matrix, so beloved of consultants. In the bottom left-hand box, we have most e-learning programmes, especially those offered by vendors of off-the-shelf courseware, typically very generic and very knowledge-based – I describe this as the cash cow. But few vendors of generic courseware offer more skills-focused programmes, so I call programmes that fall into the bottom right-hand box question marks. Companies implementing e-learning, perhaps for new employee induction or to introduce corporate systems are getting quick wins in the top left-hand box – these are stars.
But we’ll know when e-learning has really arrived when organisations can readily develop bespoke programmes that impact on employees’ skills and competences – thus the top right-hand box is the holy grail.

There are many ways to use this matrix, but I hope it at least shows it is possible to do more with e-learning than simply transfer information from one to another. Perhaps I’ll revisit this in future posts.

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