The Trainer's Rendezvous with eLearning

(A Short Affair or a Long-lasting Relationship?)

These are interesting times for everyone. The gales of change are hitting everyone and everything with equal ferocity. The climate, the flora and the fauna, the businesses, the economies, the political environment, everything is experiencing a never-before change. Though not as big as these other changes, there is yet another change, which is being experienced by the training community. This change is the recognition of eLearning as an effective “alternative/addition” to classroom training.

The use of the term “alternative” is not inadvertent. It is important to remember that in some cases, organizations want to replace classroom training with eLearning too. It isn’t only about enhancing the training quality by using eLearning as an additional mode of imparting learning; it is also about using eLearning as an alternative to classroom training. This is so, because in the long run, eLearning is much more cost-effective.

Quite like every change, this change too is facing resistance. As managers know, resistance to change isn’t only about attitudes and behavioral patterns; resistance to change also germinates from inadequate understanding and appreciation of the reason for change. This is also true for eLearning implementation in organizations. Not everyone is keen on eLearning. Some also think of it as a “computer substitute” for a trainer. Thus, the trainer as well as the trainee; both look at the implementation of eLearning as an undesirable change.

My experience has taught me that change shouldn’t be resisted; it should be analyzed for its possible effects (both positive and negative) and then if needed, modified. Going by this philosophy, my intention now is to equip you with the information that can help you review this change constructively.

Let us first look at eLearning to identify it correctly and then review its main strengths and weaknesses.

What exactly is eLearning?

ELearning can be understood as learning through electronic means. This definition should immediately classify both mobile learning and television learning as eLearning. However, I recommend that you don’t generalize in haste. Again, if you’ve been using PowerPoint presentations, you may be tempted to say that even PowerPoint presentations should be included in eLearning. Resist that temptation. eLearning happens when a learner learns by interacting with the computer directly. This doesn’t happen in the case of PowerPoint presentations…and so, if you are using PowerPoint presentations in your training programs, you cannot assert that you are using eLearning.

Traditional eLearning

So eLearning is:

  • Computer-based Trainings
  • Web-based Trainings
  • Online courses (served through learning management systems) with facilitator-support.
  • Virtual Training Programs (with a live instructor)

The New Kids on the eLearning Block

As we continue to march into the future, certain other types of learning avenues that are being classified as eLearning, include:

  • Learning Blogs,
  • PodCasts/WebCasts,
  • Wikis as online resources of information,
  • Social Networking sites such as Facebook, Twitter
    (Note: The above four are often categorized as web 2.0,) and more recently
  • Mobile Learning Applications affectionately called m-Learning.*

*m-learning is at times classified as eLearning, but often it is not. m-learning is created by adhering to principles that are somewhat different from eLearning (the screen space, the technological limitations, and the audience’s immediate environment and mental state are all quite different for m-learning than they are for eLearning.) Personally, I prefer to view it as a completely different learning medium that would require the instructional designer to work with a very different kind of mental framework.

4 Defining Characteristics of eLearning

Let us review some features of eLearning, which are common to all types of eLearning content.

  1. The learner is not in direct contact with the instructor (if an instructor is there, as in the case of facilitated online content.)
  2. The learner directs the learning. The learner decides the sequence of learning, the time of learning, and even the amount of learning that should happen within a particular time period. Though the designer/instructor may attempt to define it for the learner by providing timelines, eventually, it is the learner who takes responsibility for the learning.
  3. The content has to be created by gazing into the crystal ball. It has to close all the gaps that may occur. It has to answer the questions that the learner may come up with.
  4. eLearning has to provide means for learner’s conflict resolution/reduction of cognitive dissonance. When mature learners learn, they compare the new learning with their existing views – when a conflict/dissonance arises, it has to resolved within the constraints of the medium.

As a Trainer, you must often wonder...

A Trainer wonders how to tackle the challenges of elearning.

Is it Good for Trainers? (The Advantages of eLearning)

Let us take a quick look at the advantages of eLearning:

Other than the biggest advantage (to the organization that implements eLearning,), which is that of reduced implementation costs, there are some other benefits that accrue directly to the trainer. Let us look at some of these.

  1. Are you bored of repeating yourself? If repetition tires you out, consider eLearning. As a trainer you often have to repeat content, so that it begins to appear canned – but then you continue repeating it because you know that the trainee needs the practice.

  2. Think of putting the practice in form of eLearning.
    • Are you a process trainer? Do you feel that individual practice and customized feedback isn’t always possible. Review eLearning as a possible option.
    • Are you voice and accent trainer? Do you think that individual practice sessions sponge the vitality and freshness out of your training programs? Think about enabling the learner to practice in his/her own time; so that classroom practice time is reduced.

  3. Do you want to spend your time creating better activities and exercises; instead of milling through sessions that require repetition.
    • Think of a training program about cultures. You may want to use videos with interactivity or content that you consider optional.
    • Review the larger context of training. You would like to analyze your audience better. You would also like to analyze the evaluation feedback to enhance the future training programs. ELearning will help you create time for these.
  4. The new generation is the tech-savvy generation. Most are more comfortable with technology than they are with people. When people are in their cognitive comfort-zones, extraneous cognitive load reduces and they learn better. Thus, when you accept eLearning, you make yourself ready for the future.

  5. Do you want to expand the boundaries of your classroom? More specifically, would you like to reach out and train people all around the world? ELearning shall help you achieve this.

Is it Bad for Trainers? (The Challenges of eLearning)

Are there some disadvantages too? Will this acceptance cause you certain discomforts?
Initially, yes.
It will expect you to stretch and to learn. You will be learning:

  • A new terminology
  • A new way of presenting learning
  • A new method of enabling, reinforcing, and assessing learning

So it’s up to you. Do you want to look at these as opportunities or as disadvantages?

But I fear....(A Trainer's Apprhensions)

Are you afraid?
If so, what are you afraid of?

  • Do you think that eLearning will result in the redundancy of trainers? (Only the role shall become a bit different; trainers would become facilitators – otherwise nothing will change. In fact, for some types of learning, on-ground training are expected to hold sway over online training.)
  • Do you feel that you may not be able to expand your skill-set quickly enough? (eLearning is a different medium…that is all. Instructional design drives learning effectiveness in all types of learning. Compare the discomfort experienced by your parents when they first used a washing machine to wash clothes; or a microwave oven to bake! The principles stayed the same, only the medium of washing/cooking changed.)
  • Do you think that you will be required to build an entirely new competency towards which you may not be inclined? (If you like to train and you have adequate command over language, you have the required set of competencies. You don’t have to become a programmer or a graphic designer, to make eLearning content.)

Change is something that scares us, because it introduces the risk factor – in form of the unknown. When we know a danger well, we can find ways to overcome it! When we’ve learned the protection mechanisms well, we aren’t afraid anymore. The risk of unknown makes us feel vulnerable – because we don’t know what weapons would be needed for protection.

Thus, the first step towards eliminating your fear of eLearning is to know it. This small attempt would probably help you see how eLearning can make you a more effective trainer, and thus motivate you to explore it further. Explore it, acquire the new competencies, and march into the future with confidence!

- Author: Shafali R. Anand


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