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Article on eLearning

Secrets of Human-Capital Management – eLearning

David Creelman

E-learning’s Quiet Progress

In the early days of e-learning people envisioned traditional classroom courses being swept away by on-line training that was cheap, convenient and very cool. But there was a real crash in enthusiasm as people found early e-learning courses uninteresting, the technology difficult to manage, and the costs higher than expected.

The reason for the disappointment is that switching from classroom training to e-learning was not a simple switch, it was a huge leap. It wasn’t like replacing a VHS tape with a DVD; it was like going from making radio programs to making movies. There was a lot to learn to make the new medium of e-learning work.

The good news is that the training industry has been learning a lot and e-learning has made quiet progress in several areas.

Improved Course Design

One area of gradual but continual improvement is in course design. The early e-learning programs were tedious collections of slides, but the better vendors have built up their skills in instructional design. I looked at a course on telecoms equipment and simple things like the ability to rotate the diagram of a piece of equipment and pull out a circuit board made the process much more interesting. Another technique in some SkillSoft courses is to use two presenters rather than one. The banter between presenters makes for an engaging training program-it compensates for the lack of face-to-face interaction one gets in classroom training. Vendors are learning how to make e-learning courses that convey the information participants need without putting them to sleep.

Smoothing over the Speed Bumps

The other point I picked up from SkillSoft was the importance of making access to the courses extremely easy. You might think “Getting a course is no problem. The employee just loads up the system on her PC. Logs on. Search for the course she is interested in, selects it, and then runs the course.”

But in the day-to-day life of a busy employee even small barriers can discourage using the system. It’s not a matter of having to clear away hurdles; you have to clear away the speed bumps as well.

One way companies do this is having personalized portals for their employees-portals simply being the name for a web page where the employee has the tools, including various sorts of e-learning, right on their home page. If your company doesn’t have a portal you can see what they are like by going to then creating you own iGoogle page with whatever information feeds interest you.

To someone with a background in training needs analysis or instructional design, playing around with the technology that puts e-learning on an employee’s desktop may not seem very interesting. But we know enough about human behaviour that we can confidently say that e-learning that is even a little difficult to launch won’t be used nearly as much as e-learning that is one click away.

The Killer 1% Course

Probably the biggest feature of e-learning is not in better courses, but in better access to small sections of courses. In a classroom setting it would be ridiculous to have a four minute course because of all the logistics in setting it up. Instead we frequently have classes that last 100 times longer – a full day. But note that the reason we don’t have 4 minute classes is not because of learning but because of logistics. At any given moment in the workday, what a person needs to learn can often be conveyed in a few minutes. We couldn’t deliver the specific 4 minutes someone needed with traditional classroom training, with e-learning we can. Or to be a bit more specific, we don’t deliver it, we make the material available and the employees navigate to the bit of information they need, right now.

According to SkillSoft, what happens now is that an employee will log on to a one-hour e-learning course, but then flip through to the 4 minutes they need. If we track minutes of access we shouldn’t interpret this as someone failing to complete the course, we should see it as the successful delivery of learning on-demand.

Learning how to make this kind of very specific access to bit of information easy (no speed bumps) and effective (good course design) is the future of e-learning.

About the Author:

David Creelman is CEO of Creelman Research providing writing, research and commentary on human capital management. He is investing much of his time in helping organizations report on human capital. He works with a variety of academics, think tanks, consultancies and HR vendors in the US, Japan, Canada and China.


David Creelman,Creelman Research,416.406.6095

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