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Elearning: What is it good for?


ToolsTaking your first steps with elearning? Rob Hubbard gives some advice on where it works well - and when you should consider other training methods.

My two-year-old son loves 'Bob The Builder': the cartoon handyman who can turn his hand to anything. He has a positive 'can-do' attitude and attacks each job with great gusto. As Bob will tell you, the key to doing a job well is choosing the right tool.

Photo of Rob Hubbard"When times are tough and budgets are tight, it is tempting to look to elearning as a panacea for meeting training requirements. The cost of training 10,000 people is virtually the same as 100."

In the training industry many of us are like Bob. Every project or training need is different. We often have limited time and resources, there are many pressures upon us, and we need to choose the best tool or training method to get the job done.

When times are tough and budgets are tight, it is tempting to look to elearning as a panacea for meeting training requirements. The economies of scale apply - the cost of training 10,000 people is virtually the same as 100. It is flexible, fast to deliver, and it can be very quick to build.

Many organisations are now considering building their own elearning content in-house, using rapid elearning authoring tools, or outsourcing content development to external providers. These can both be very effective approaches for many training needs.

However, elearning is not a fix-all solution. It is simply another tool in the trainer's toolbox. So how do you know if elearning is the right tool for the job? There are no hard-and-fast rules. However, here are some guidelines that will help you decide. It works well when:

  • The target audience is large and/or geographically dispersed. It becomes cost–effective when you need to train a lot of people to do the same thing. The larger the target audience, the lower the cost per head of training.
  • There is a relatively small amount of content. It is difficult to hold people's attention for long periods of time in any form of training, particularly if it involves self-study. For this reason, elearning content should be relatively short. Aim for 'chunks' of no more than 20 minutes duration.
  • Your audience needs to learn fast. If you need to train people quickly, with minimal impact to the business, and check that they have understood the material, elearning is a good solution. Short chunks of elearning can be studied as part of a person's working day, removing the need for travel or time away from the organisation. Even better if it can be in two to five minute chunks and readily accessible whenever the person needs it.
  • You need to train people to use an IT system. Whether it is one of your own in-house systems or standard software, elearning is very well suited to delivering this kind of training. It is possible to easily build guided tours and interactive simulations of IT systems where people can learn to use the software.
  • You should consider other training methods when:

  • The target audience has widely varying needs and prior knowledge levels. Elearning is not a 'one size fits all' solution. A trainer can tailor what they deliver, as they deliver it, to give extra help to those who need it, and answer additional questions from those surging ahead.
  • The content has a lot of text. If the content is very text-heavy, don't make people read it from a computer screen. Intensive reading from a computer monitor is tiring and people will find a way to print the content out.
  • You need to bring about attitudinal changes in people. This can be done with elearning, but to reliably change people's attitudes they must have the opportunity to ask questions and explore the material.
  • Lots of peer interaction is required. If it is key to the effectiveness of the training that people can work together and share experiences, consider another training method.
  • "Elearning is not a fix-all solution. It is simply another tool in the trainer's toolbox."

    Remember, elearning does not have to be a structured course that people work through. It could be a blend of electronic training methods - for example, a podcast, an online quiz, a video clip, an intranet page, documents, interactive scenarios, SMS messages or a virtual classroom session. This further array of tools should be selected on a project-by-project basis. We'll look at how to utilise this 'blended' approach in another article.

    As a producer of bespoke elearning you may be wondering why I'm encouraging you to consider other training methods. The answer is that when you take your first steps with elearning I want you to get it right first time. With the right knowledge at the outset you will have a much greater chance of making elearning a success within your organisation.

    Rob Hubbard is an elearning architect and founder of LearningAge Solutions, which offers consultancy, design, content development and project management services in elearning and blended learning. For more information, visit:


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