Disadvantages of traditional eLearning approach

Managers of the companies that plan to implement eLearning systems often express their expectations in the form similar to the following: “Our employees are expected to spend more than 50 000 hours in this Learning Management System (LMS) next year. They will have a variety of learning resources relevant to their daily activities. Can you imagine the impact it would have on our business?”.

As research shows, in most companies just after one year of LMS implementation, employees use less than 10% of non-mandatory learning modules (e.g. compliance). And if a corporate eLearning library has more than a thousand courses, it doesn’t mean that employees would use them all or even have a quick look at most of them.Other managers just buy licences for eLearning resources and hope that every employee will find something useful there. All this “well-thought” initiatives lack focus and strategic vision. What is more important, they lack links with business results.

Also, 50 000 hours employees would spend learning something and not working, means the impact on business results would be negative.

Learning initiatives to be effective should focus on individual needs of employees aligned with the company’s goals. Leadership capabilities are developed, when learners get knowledge and skills that are: 1) relevant to the challenges they face 2) well-structured and 3) presented at the right time.

As practice shows, it is not easy to provide all requirements mentioned above. And to do so, we need to consider features of today’s informational environment.

Today’s informational environment features

Rapid development of technologies defines the following three features of today’s informational environment. They also demand changes on how organisations design their learning activities. These three features are:

  • rapid obsolescence of knowledge
  • high level of information noise,
  • people are less focused.
Rapid obsolescence of knowledge

Technological development requires continuous learning. Professional knowledge obsoletes very quickly. Research shows that in chemical industry the period when knowledge becomes obsolete is 3.9 years, in machine building – 5.2 years, in chemical industry – 4.2 years.

High level of information noise

Rapid obsolescence is just a one problem. New knowledge obsoletes quickly, and it is harder and harder to acquire new knowledge. It may sound counterintuitive, as we are told constantly that any information we need is just a click of mouse away. It might be true, but information we really need couldn’t be found too fast. We are overwhelmed with information. We sink in the information ocean.

Information overload has become a global problem and there is still no solution. With too much information we can’t filter it and use it for decision making.

People are less focused

Information overload makes it hard for people to concentrate. As some readers might remember, a couple of years ago Microsoft published the report where it found out that modern people have attention span close to that of a goldfish.

Although we don’t have attention spans similar to goldfish, attention spans of modern people are narrowing, due to “rapid exhaustion of attention resources”.

It basically means that narrower attention spans make it difficult to concentrate.

But there is another finding of the research:

Research also shows that active users of technology despite the narrower attention spans, demonstrate higher levels of activity and focus on short term spans. In other words, they acquire more information in shorter periods of time.

Modern requirements to learning systems and/or processes

How should we re-design the organisational learning to overcome the modern challenges. We have to use three components:

  • microlearning,
  • spaced learning,
  • targeted questioning.

First, learning material should be presented in the form of microcontent. It allows:

  • update the parts learning material rapidly, without the need of updating the rest of it,
  • chunks of presented learning material support the maximum intensity of focus.

Second, learning material should be repeated two times minimum. So we need spaced learning. There is a huge amount of scientifically proven data on human memory that proves that acquiring new information requires some time and neuron paths strengthen when new information presented again after some time but is presented slightly different. The best way to present information “slightly different” is to redesign it in the form of a question.

Information presented in the form of a question activate neuron paths and make it stronger than then other forms of presenting content, for example – repeated reading. Also, answering questions engages a learner into the learning process and makes a good interactivity.

So, third condition is that we need to design questions to all learning material. As an additional bonus we see that all unnecessary and irrelevant information is excluded out of it.

Small daily tasks

Learning process based on current research and modern technology advances should be designed as follows. Every day employees get microcontent they should learn and questions they should answer. Yes, it means employees should log into the system every day and complete their daily tasks. If they wouldn’t learn, their learning tasks would increase significantly.

The good news is that learning new and answering questions wouldn’t take longer than 10-15 minutes – they can make when they take their daily coffee or tea.

How does this strategy help HR managers and L&D professionals?

  • First, HR and L&D professionals can increase efficiency of learning – employees spent less time learning and more time working, and knowledge transfer happens at the same rate if not faster than in more traditional methods.
  • Second, employees are more engaged into the learning process, as learning happens interactively, when they answer the questions.

How does this strategy help employees?

  • First, employees get more comfortable learning experience. Employees wouldn’t need to click the “Next” button trying not to fall asleep. They can read a small chunk of information and they don’t even try to remember it. The most important means of leaning would be not reading but figuring out the correct answer to the question.
  • Second, employees would acquire new knowledge more efficiently. Microlearning methodology coupled with spaced learning, interactivity and restructuring information is based on the latest research how human brain works. As a consequence, employees have higher amount of residual knowledge than if they used traditional methods. This allows them to better be prepared for the next step in learning when hey apply what they have learned.