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E-Learning – The next great disappointment?


Kim Coe, CEO of the The How2 Group, compares e-learning with the dotcom boom and bust, and calls for simplicity and more attention to communication, to avoid following that pattern.

Talk to anyone involved in trying to get their organisation to embrace E-Learning and you are likely to find that the most common problem is around the simple factor of getting people to use it and keep using it.

Looking back at a parallel e-undertaking, the DotCom promise (as we all know) royally failed to revolutionise how people do business, despite the massive good will that was actually waiting on ‘standby’.

That phenomenon promised to;

(a) Make available valuable resource at a fraction of the cost against traditional methods
(b) Put control and choice in the hands of the individual
(c) Greatly enhance access and effective usage for the buyers and end users

But it didn’t happen

Despite all the valid arguments, which could apply just as equally to the E-Learning promise if you think about it, it didn’t work - and so for some, the ‘clever money’ is already saying we are likely to repeat history unless we can understand what’s truly behind getting the E-Learning take-up to happen, certainly in the Corporate sector.

Of course, the UK markets, buyers and industries (especially business to business) were not ready for the DotCom world but that’s always going to be the case when new innovations come along, which E-Learning is most definitely.

The key problem is that we tend to underestimate the amount of ‘human’ communication it takes to change agreement or even break old habits, which shows up in the lack of explanation and support in how to use or benefit from the new resources, not least as a means of organisational development.

The resulting ‘split’ between old school (bricks and mortar) and new school (virtual DotCom) companies indicates just how much decision makers were missing the point or effectively ‘throwing out the baby with the bathwater’ in their attempt to capitalise on the opportunity at best or to subsequently get a return on the amount of money they had spent on it at worst.

Why then do we think that CEOs and their Boards are going to easily embrace an even more complex undertaking, which doesn’t even have the immediate and direct possibility of generating new market share, sales and customer retention?

So, who cares?

Obviously, the systems developers care, as do the E-Learning and content providers and, as a result, the new ‘E-Learning lexicon’ is being added to daily as more and more of us suppliers see the potential and the value that this approach can genuinely bring (and which can endorse our offers quite nicely too).

Training and development managers care and if you are reading this article, you care.

But the problem is we’re already scaring people !

If a manager knows what Taxonomy means or what Re-usable Learning Objects really entail (and they are neither a database nor educational manager) then they can probably do it all themselves - but good luck to them in getting others to play along.

If a Training Manager or HR Manager believes in the gold at the end of the E-Learning rainbow, more than their commercial or line managers do, then they are going to need a lot more than luck to get participation going where it counts.

Perhaps the question then is not so much around who cares but more around what we should be caring about?

Stop and reverse the roundabout

First and foremost, let’s step back and imagine what the current general perception is around E-Learning.

For most people, it’s being seen as a new way of delivering useful information and some training functions electronically. Of course, us ‘clever clogs’ know that it’s so much more than that ….but so what?

We have all got to stop blinding people with science and we have to stop ‘showing off’ as experts in a field that is only JUST EMERGING.

If you disagree with that statement, it may be that you are referring to numerous surveys and reports that show a large spend in E-Learning, Corporate Universities and Knowledge Portal materials and infrastructures.

However, the real point is how many people are actually using and benefiting from these resources in-house – THAT is where the emerging field is at its most honest.

Of course, ‘In the land of the blind, the one-eyed man is King’ but we aren’t going for monarchy, as organisational influencers we are supposed to bring sight to those that most need to see and in this case, the managers and the end users.

As a result, KISS (keep it simple stupid) is probably the most important thing we should care about at this stage of the proceedings and if we can’t get people inspired about the possibilities, using short words and no jargon, then we have absolutely ‘shot ourselves in the foot’ before we have really begun.

“It aint what you say, it’s the way that you say it”

Once again, the overriding challenge is around communication and it seems that we often find ourselves starting the dialogue (or entering into it) at a stage that is too far down the line.

The endless frustration that E-Learning proponents face generally relates to people not grasping what can be achieved with it, whether in support of skills development, knowledge sharing or culture change.

This is often because the ‘solution’ is being fought for before the ‘problem’ is adequately identified and accepted as an issue that must be addressed.

Add to that, too much sophisticated detail and jargon around the ‘how’ of it all and you have all the makings of a proposition that is guaranteed to switch off most decision makers or, at best, have it ‘thrown’ a token budget that will most likely not even get the initiative to the real starting post.

Make the organisational issues and realities the true point of communication and make the context big enough to stimulate everyone, not just training and development people.

And only when that has been established, look at how E-Learning might be the very thing that everyone is really looking for. This will speed up the process and it will help ensure its success, even if it looks like a step backwards from where we are now.

Sell the Story

As for the ultimate beneficiaries or end users, they need just as much communication and guidance to see how E-Learning can truly transform their experience and make them more successful and personally satisfied as a result.

This however can only be achieved by being honest with them and letting them know ‘we are all in this together folks’.

And don’t worry about impressing them with the latest resource created ‘just for them’ because they really don’t care on the whole.

The biggest similarity between external customers and internal customers is that they need the same level of communication, invitation and encouragement - to play with the organisation effectively.

The biggest difference between external customers and internal customers is that the underlying knowledge sitting at the heart of the company and in its people, is the true future waiting to happen.

Let people know that this is where and why they can make the difference, pivotal to ‘the whole’ and the vast majority will move heaven and earth to help make it happen.

If that’s around E-Learning, then that’s what they will participate with - and they will do it to a great and wonderful affect - despite the natural resistance that we all feel when someone tells us they know what’s best for us.


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