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Feature: Blending the Right Solution


Cyber Cafe Many organisations found that e-learning to failed to live up to its initial promise. Here Frank Salisbury of Business and Training Solutions International looks at some of the common problems of e-learning and how blended delivery can overcome them.

There is little doubt that e-learning has not achieved the success it promised some 10 years ago, even though the primary benefits in terms of cost and flexibility remains extremely attractive.

However, far from being dead, e-learning has emerged as an important element in the successful blended learning approach to people development. Blended learning incorporates face-to-face delivery with online study; skills workshops; assignments; assessments, and workplace coaching.

Some of the mistakes that have been made with e-learning are:

1. A lack of a holistic approach.
E-learning was viewed as being a replacement for traditional training methods. To be successful, e-learning should adopt an integrated approach to human resource development. This means integrating performance assessment with Training Needs Analysis, with Personal Development Plans, with Continuous Professional Development records, with e-learning blended with other training resources, learning methods, and corporate learning programmes.

2. A failing to understand the e-learning medium.
Much of the reason for no 1 is the problem of thinking about e- learning as a substitute for face-to-face training just delivered cheaper and faster whenever employees want it. While computers bring strengths and opportunities to the learning experience, it must be remembered that they also remove some of the critical components of face-to-face learning, such as audio-visual; peer discussion; and the social environment.

3. A Belief that the audio-visual component can be replaced by e-learning.
Many companies designing e-learning programmes have engaged expensive programmers and invested in heavy duty programmes and equipment in order to enhance the e-learning experience. Students end up being entertained but come away learning little.

4. Blowing the Budget on a Technology Solution
The problem with mistake number 3 is that it is expensive. Spending £1m on an e-learning system is not unusual. Neither is finding out that the initial spend is only part of the expense. There are updates and maintenance to consider. Heavy duty programmes require heavy duty equipment and software to download. As a face-to-face trainers we can alter training notes, handouts and session content very quickly and inexpensively. Try doing that with audio-video content.

5. Failing to link e-learning with business needs.
Traditional training should flow from the organisation's business strategy. E-learning is no exception. Whilst e-learning may be a new delivery method, it does not change the fundamentals of business strategy, manpower and HRD planning, individual performance reviews and training needs analysis; nor learning programme design, progress monitoring, programme evaluation and learning verification. Like other learning methods, an e-learning programme must flow from, and be driven, by the organisation's business development objectives, and therefore e-learning should also be monitored and measured.

6. Unrealistic Expectations.
How many projects have failed for want of a realistic assessment of time, resources and expectations? Many would point to Total Quality Management (TQM) as a pretty good example. When a project involves a new discipline and particularly when that discipline involves new technology it is very common for management to overestimate short-term expectations and underestimate the time and cost needed before benefits can realistically be achieved. If this is doubted, then ask any project manager. As a result, initial enthusiasm is soon replaced by despair. Like TQM or any ‘flavour of the month’, e-learning has many substantial benefits but it is not a magic wand, and it is not a substitute for sound management.

7. A Lack of management involvement
E-learning is no different to any other form of training. It might work in the classroom or on-line but the measure of its transference to the workplace is totally reliant upon the involvement of the line manager. The special problem with e-learning is the number of technophobe managers who can hide behind "I’m not an IT expert" excuse for not getting involved in the learning goals of their staff.

You do not need to spend millions on trying to replace traditional learning methods with an e-learning platform. Treat e-learning as just an addition delivery channel, which gives you more flexibility. Research shows that students can only absorb 15/20 minutes of e-learning at a time anyway which is why a well-designed blended learning programme will usually deliver study tasks in small bites. It provides the option to more effectively use the training budget whilst keeping a tight control on who is studying what; when; to what level; whether the manager is involved or not; and ultimately how the learning is being applied.


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