eLearning's Time To Shine? Apparently Not

eLearning's Time To Shine? Apparently Not
Summary: At any other time in our collective moment this wouldn't be readily apparent, however, the pandemic is revealing shortcomings, and we need to ask: Why is learning not stepping up when it's needed most?

You'd Think Learning Would Be Better Prepared

And the desperation continues. What am I talking about? Those responsible for learning still don't seem to get it. Even during a time for an essential need like learning, it appears those in learning, either professional or academic, are failing to step up in addressing multiple societal and workplace issues. It comes across more like those responsible for learning play the role of Waldo in a real-life "Where's Waldo?" scenario, but make it more like "Where's learning?"; "Where's education?"; or, "Where's knowledge?"

Let's be honest. In times of crisis, change, or uncertainty the one thing we should be able to lean on and expect is knowledge. Naturally, this knowledge arises through learning and is usually driven by continuous learning. Why is this relevant now? It's because we're in a huge time of crisis, change, and uncertainty! The only thing that will get us through this and help us navigate through it is our ability to learn and apply knowledge.

With the greatest challenge facing our society, however, the learning role, or those responsible for it, appear to have abdicated their responsibility. Yes, this is a bold statement, but the evidence is all around us. Whenever there is some attempt at a "learning effort" it comes across as half-hearted or half-baked.

Why is this the case? Is this not the collective moment learning practitioners, workplace or academic, always wanted or wished for? Would this not be the moment when the coach calls you into the big game to make the play to win it for the team? If you're a learning practitioner or responsible for learning in any respect, guess what? You've been called up to the big leagues and into the big game! But with the lackluster learning outcome and performance, if something doesn't change fast, this will be the reason you might be shipped back down to the minors never to be called back.

Don't believe me? You don't have to. Chances are you've personally experienced, either directly or indirectly, a poor learning effort. Let's begin with the one you hear about most and that is education. From elementary through to university, "distance learning" has pretty much been teachers appearing before a camera and teaching as if in a classroom setting. With all of the available technologies available to teachers, why do we still go back to old habits?

What about workplace learning? While academia may not have the ability to access the most current learning resources, workplace learning practitioners do. Not only do they have access to the required learning resources, but they're also often the first to insist on their organization purchasing the latest "shiny new object." And still, the learning is usually nothing more than a trainer speaking to a PowerPoint deck or worse, an eLearning course that's nothing more than a voiced-over PowerPoint with token activities and quizzes tossed in for good measure. These are only some of the more obvious examples.

Furthermore, you'd think that with all of the learning "resources," "support," and the numerous associations and groups popping up like mushrooms, the learning available should be jaw-dropping. Just recently, some self-proclaimed learning "mythbusters" have not only started up another learning support group (one more too many) but are also the same who spread many of the learning myths practitioner's practice. Even with the addition of another "learning" group, you'd think this support would have users shouting from the rooftop about how awesome the course or training is they took.

Poor learning and not capitalizing on a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity is unacceptable. There is good news. You may have a second chance to do something worthwhile since stakeholders and users expect something innovative and desperate to deploy or to engage in a new way to learn from a distance. The bad news? Your window of opportunity is closing fast, and your second chance is possibly your last chance to prove learning's worth.

Make eLearning, eLearning!

Ok, let's be honest. When practitioners speak about what eLearning should be, it is not exactly what they actually deliver. It's just like the hamburger advertisement you see (poster or TV) versus what you actually get when you order one. Like the hamburger advertisement, users reticently accept what they receive but mumble disappointment under their breath.

Regretfully, practitioners speak about eLearning's impressive benefits but, when push comes to shove, their efforts are too often a terrible disappointment, just like the burger. Naturally, stakeholders reticently accept it, but trust me, they're mumbling more than disappointment under their breath. Unfortunately, this is one unspoken truth those learning groups tend to avoid addressing and that is eLearning may be a practitioner's tool to gain favor with stakeholders but subsequently fail to produce the results promoted. Essentially, the underlying philosophy, intentionally or otherwise, is to "over-promise, under-deliver" or rather underwhelm.

eLearning must fulfill the promise stakeholders expect. Stop complying with stakeholder pressure or expectations. They aren't the subject experts, you are! They shouldn't dictate the eLearning need, you should! They shouldn't decide on the type of eLearning or learning deployment, such as taking their material, developing a half-assed course, and calling it eLearning, you should! But many practitioners placate stakeholder whims and continue to develop underwhelming eLearning...it's also why stakeholders' credibility continues to erode.

eLearning technology provides so much opportunity to show the value learning could deliver for the business. eLearning is much more than learning through virtual means. There's a myriad of eLearning technologies that offer substantive performance value when used appropriately. The next time you consider asking for more learning and eLearning technology consider how it'll make the business better. Be better; step up!

Prove Learning Makes A Difference

One thing is clear, without any effort from practitioners, there's no doubt eLearning does grab stakeholders' attention. The reason it grabs their attention is, and isn't, about delivering learning through virtual means. The "E" in eLearning is more about extracting efficiencies and effectiveness to improve operational processes, something that practitioners fail to grasp. Your focus shouldn't just be on the virtual aspect. It should encompass the target and address your stakeholders' expectations.

This may come across as harsh, but stakeholders don't care about "learning," what they care about is the outcome learning promises, which is improving performance. This is not personal since expectations from every functional activity (cost center) are to (indirectly) drive value within primary revenue and profit activities. And, guess what? Learning is fundamental to making this happen, and eLearning offers you a clear path to achieving just that.

Something I'm passionate about is Lean Learning. It's something progressive and successful organizations consistently apply, and you can read more about it in more depth here, "eLearning is Dead; Long Live eLearning." Technology gives you the opportunity to deploy learning in innovative and non-intrusive ways. Consider one of many stakeholder frustrations where learning interventions are intrusive, reducing employee productivity. While stakeholders recognize this will always be a reality, it doesn't mean you shouldn't find ways to minimize productivity downtime. Ultimately, learning is meant to improve employee productivity so it shouldn't further compound it.

eLearning technologies and methodologies are reshaping corporate training, allowing you to develop solutions that seamlessly adapt and address individual learners' needs. Your eLearning must become adaptive and seamless to demonstrate value for changing business and workforce needs.

Developing an adaptive learning mindset is no longer about simply focusing on employee learning, that's so old school. It's now about targeting precision learning interventions that meet employee performance needs when, how, and where they need it. Because of unpredictable changing business needs, learning is more critical than ever, but it's no longer a static event, it has become a continuously evolving one. When you move toward or push for eLearning, you've forsaken the traditional "one size fits all" learning paradigm. This is where your mindset should be; if it's not, you don't offer any value.

eLearning technologies are now designed to adapt to the job and employee learning expectations. It’s your responsibility to appropriately evaluate, select, and apply eLearning technology to drive better personal and organizational performance. In this competitive landscape, the differentiator will be how well you adapt to employees' learning needs and ensure it takes place when and as needed.

Moving eLearning Forward

Remind yourself that you are the learning subject expert and eLearning is a wonderful and all-encompassing term to foster performance value. Work with operational stakeholders and employees to respect and define their needs. Don't bow to their pressure for what they believe is eLearning.

Steve Jobs once famously stated:

Some people say, 'Give the customer what they want.' But that's not my approach. Our job is to figure out what they're going to want before they do. I think Henry Ford once said, 'If I'd ask customers what they wanted, they would have told me, 'A faster horse!' People don't know what they want until you show it to them.

You can adapt Mr. Jobs's quote to your eLearning efforts. Stakeholders know they want more effectiveness and efficiencies to improve employee performance and they believe that's through eLearning. But they don't know what eLearning they want; that's your job, so don't disappoint by packaging a PowerPoint or static eLearning course because that's what they told you. Impress them and leverage eLearning technologies to make a lasting difference.

Please share your thoughts and feedback with us. We’d enjoy hearing about your efforts. And who knows, it may be the topic of our next eLearning Industry article. Also, please check out our LinkedIn Learning courses to learn more about developing your business credibility for your learning efforts. Please share your thoughts and remember #alwaysbelearning!