“So What Exactly is E-learning, then?”

Despite e-learning having been around for approximately two decades, this a question which I still get asked.  People know that it is ‘something to do with your PC and …’ well, what … ?

L&D practitioners commonly understand e-learning (the ‘e’ = ‘electronic’, though I’m sure you knew that!) as any type of self-directed learning away from the traditional classroom setting.  So, on this basis, making some notes from Wiki about the stock market is a piece of perfectly valid business focussed e-learning.   You could also have looked at a website and online discussion such as Money Saving Expert, or even joined a themed Facebook or Linkedin group.  It all amounts to the same thing, which is learning from computer based sources.

For a business manager, while it can be useful to have your staff learn in this way, it isn’t targeted, relies very much on the learner being able to direct themselves effectively, and is difficult to tell how much learning is being absorbed. There also tends to be an early process of stagnation whereby the learner creates pages of notes which answer their initial questions.  Once those questions have been answered, however, the learner tends to just stop. This is where a professional software learning management system (‘LMS’) come into play.

Essentially, an LMS is a series of tiered and targeted applications focussed on short bursts or chunks of learning. Typically each chunk will feature some interactive PowerPoint type slides, with captions or a voiceover, and a test or activity at the end.  Each level needs to be passed before the learner can move on to the next one.  If you have ever tried learning a language on DuoLingo, this works similarly to a typical LMS, as you work through the levels and move on up.

The plus points of an LMS are that the learner can access it as and when, and it can be – in the long term – more cost effective than providing ongoing classroom based training for large groups of staff.

The drawbacks are that the learning has to be created in the first place (see below), and non-human teaching is, by its very nature, limited.  At a basic level, computer programmes tend to assume that all learners start from the same point and learn in the same way.

E-learning has grown in popularity since the 1990s, but its usage has been hindered by the initial time and expense required to create an effective company LMS, hence there is still some uncertainty around it. There has also been reticence from L&D practitioners who have baulked at the idea of having to both create and constantly update media. It has been estimated that one hour of rapid learning can take anywhere between 70 and 250 hours to develop!  As technology has moved on, and it is easier to create and maintain content, that timeframe will start to reduce. Similarly, we are seeing more inventiveness and experimentation with use of gamification and augmented and virtual reality platforms, and a move away from just course creation.

In terms of e-learnings effectiveness over traditional classroom learning in the workplace, the jury is probably still out.  There isn’t enough evidence, and its use isn’t widespread enough, to provide a proper gauge. There is certainly a lot of interest in it and as the Year 2000 ‘smartphone generation’ babies continue to enter the workplace, I predict it will quickly overtake the classroom as the typical method of workplace training.

Interested in e-learning?  Here are some of the industry’s top predictions for 2019 .

Author: marydonne

Training, Coaching, and HR Specialist.

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