Thursday, 11 March 2010

Why e-learning DOES work

A response to Mark Walsh

Among the headline-grabbing claims made by Mark Walsh in his trainingzone article published on 19 February are that e-learning “isn’t really learning” and “it doesn’t really work”. Absurd? I think so. Extreme? Certainly, but it soon transpires that that’s what Mark was setting out to do.

Later in the article, he modifies the red-top sensationalism of his headlines and makes the caveat that “much of what I have said is also not fair to all e-learning providers”, and even concludes “perhaps blended learning solutions are the future - bringing together the best of e-learning and traditional training?”

What Mark (or his editor) has done is single out some of the worst practice in e-learning and use it to attack all e-learning. As he concedes himself, he could have done a similar hatchet job on classroom-based training (or any other approach to learning, for that matter).

Mark claims that e-learning can’t train people to do things. He correctly spots that e-learning is good at helping people acquire knowledge, but its limitations in transferring that to behavioural change at work are equally true of every kind of off-the-job learning. I would argue (and did so in my book Delivering E-Learning) that e-learning is one of the best of such approaches when it comes to transfer of learning.

The problem with Mark’s sort of critique of e-learning is that it sets out to attack, rather than to understand. In its rush to dismiss, it ignores the interactivity of cleverly-designed e-learning, it’s huge advantages over old-style open and distance learning, the speed of delivery and unprecedented scalability of e-learning; ignores its capacity to be carried into the workplace via smartphones or handhelds, ignores the power of digital simulations to practice real work scenarios safely and securely, ignores the new approaches to learning digital technology has opened up, and much more; worst of all, it ignores the countless success stories from e-learning implementations all over the world. In short, it ignores the fact that e-learning demonstrably does work.

Mark needs to set aside his prejudice and attention-seeking, and look again at what’s to be learned from e-learning.


Annette said...

And in addition to this, eLearning opens up training to a whole group of employees who would otherwise not be trained at all in an effort to economize on travel cost and days spend away from the workplace. A good example of this is the international hospitality industry where training is now on offer to all level of employees both through self paced learning in order to acquire knowledge and a synchronous learning to further develop knowledge and attitude.

eLearning is the way forward to further professionalize in many industries.

Annette van de Meene
Senior Consultant
Hotelschool The Hague

rbacal said...

I'm also an "attacker" of elearning, and I also have come across the semi-personal attacks that result from being "extreme".

I can share some logic about the process. Those of us who have been around a long time have seen very little change in the fundamental ways people learn, DESPITE technologies that have arrived with great hype, and then disappeared.

There are reasons for this -- good reasons why so many cool technologies have had so little impact despite the efforts of promoters and self-promoters.

I'll leave those reasons for the moment (explore my blog if you wish).

I (and others, I guess) are concerned about the huge marketing of e-everything when clearly it doesn't fit many situations, and isn't going to work despite all the goofy predictions. I am concerned about the billions of dollars going down the tubes on technology for learning that doesn't work.

And, why do I yell? Because the marketing machines on "the other side" are so huge, so well funded, and so in our faces that they control the information that spreads about e-everything. And, because their messages DO get spread virally, while reasoned critique simply does not.

Someone has to do it. Because "you" aren't doing it. And it costs. Being loud and extreme may not be ideal, but in a land where popularity trumps truth. it's all we got.