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Help yourself to the elearning buffet


White breadIf Google is 'white bread for the mind' then elearning is the three course meal, isn't it? Julian Dable says it's time for elearning to become more bitesize if it's to appeal to today's information generation.

Today's generation has grown up with networked technology and ecommerce, lives its life on the web and has come to expect instant gratification. Those who have lived and worked in this way are less accustomed to traditional methods of training, and prefer to be in control of when and where they consume information.

Browsing for answers to questions and in order to learn has become a norm. Access to an unlimited quantity of information via the internet creates an illusion that all knowledge is available and therefore one can learn anything through self exploration. However, there are dangers in the plethora of freely available information, some of which is incorrect, unsuitable or unverified. This is the view of Tara Brabazon, professor of media studies, at the University of Brighton, who was quoted earlier this year in The Times as saying Google is "white bread for the mind." See

Photo of Julian Dable"Accessing easily digestible bits of information, as opposed to a 'three course meal' is crucial to our ongoing competence in the work environment."

While Google has revolutionised the way we use the internet, largely in an incredibly positive way, the internet is nevertheless producing a generation that survives on a diet of readily accessible, but potentially not always accurate information. One of the originators of Wikipedia, distanced himself from the online encyclopedia, citing the increasing unreliability of information authored through it.

Our increasing and widespread use of the World Wide Web over the past 10 years has subtly rewired our brains. We have been lulled into thinking that the internet offers easy answers to all questions. But users have no way of verifying whether the answers they find are solidly founded.

Elearning is a perfect balance between traditional learning and self-determined 'quick-fix' internet learning. Readily accessible, expert information from sanctioned subject matter experts is the safest and most practical way of getting information into your employees' hands. These days, widely available authoring software tools put power into the hands of subject matter experts who don't need to be technologically savvy to create training courses. They can integrate the power of multimedia audio and video to create engaging learning. Even better, such tools are easy to learn and the process can be contracted to a matter of hours or days rather than weeks.

Why does elearning have the potential to meet the needs of today's learners? Firstly, elearning can suit more informal behaviour modes. Today's employees are increasingly dependent on online learning through web searching, reference to intranet-based resources and online social networking. Elearning can more readily encompass these ways of informal learning than traditional classroom models. In the Towards Maturity Survey conducted in 2007 by e-Skills UK, informal learning appeared on the radar of 79% of organisations. In addition, 80% of learners were either currently using technology to share knowledge with others or were interested in doing so if the opportunity arose. While most employees are motivated by the prospect of increasing their knowledge, the reality of fitting in formal training time is becoming more and more challenging.
Constant on-the-job training is a more practical method.

Until recently elearning has often mirrored the traditional classroom training applied when learning a completely new skill or starting a new job, meaning time needs to be put aside. Today's thinking is more towards a blended and flexible combination.

In some ways, both traditional learning and elearning have in the past focused on providing employees with a 'three course meal,' where large quantities of information are digested, and training is carefully planned and scheduled ahead of time. Elearning remains an extremely effective tool in providing easily accessible, satisfying, nutrient-rich content. However, there are often occasions when we find ourselves unable to solve a problem, or are short of a necessary technique. This is typically when people reach for the mouse and start surfing the web for quick answers and solutions. In this scenario, properly planned elearning, which integrates the ability for employees to grab a new knowledge module exactly when they need it, has great value.

"Elearning fits with today's information consumer generation by providing a balance between formal, traditional classroom training and quick-fix learning afforded by the internet."

In this context, elearning has the potential to provide flexible and timely learning to a far greater extent than traditional classroom training: it is available 24/7 and it puts users in control of their own learning. Elearning is also particularly suitable for training material that has critical development timelines, goes out of date quickly or changes frequently. Today's employees have become the ultimate multi-taskers: staying on top of email, surfing the web and working on multiple projects simultaneously. For them, accessing easily digestible bits of information, as opposed to a 'three course meal' is crucial to our ongoing competence in the work environment.

While elearning has always made full use of interactivity, we also need to think about redefining the use of interaction within elearning for today's information consumer generation. Elearning programmes can extend the ability for learners to record and broadcast their own experiences and opinions. With the rise of blogs, podcasts and social networks this type of interactivity is becoming increasingly desirable and by giving learners the opportunity to interact, a social framework for the learning experience is created. This in turn has a positive effect on employees' engagement with the learning process.

In the e-skills survey, one of the largest predicted growth areas over the next three years is online collaboration between learners (+24%). The survey also found that those organisations experiencing the greatest impact from elearning were those who made the most use of such collaboration.

Elearning fits with today's information consumer generation by providing a balance between formal, traditional classroom training and quick-fix learning afforded by the internet. It can deliver formal courses or informal, flexible and on-demand training, making it more digestible, practical, relevant and engaging. In that way it can keep employees abreast of key developments and top up crucial knowledge. Personalisation and interactivity, in the right context, are other areas where elearning can tune the learning environment to its best advantage. Overall, elearning needs to maintain its reputation as a source of reputable, accurate information and training, whilst capitalising on its online presence and continue to evolve and develop in response to the behaviour of today's internet users. Remaining one step ahead of employees’ needs and providing relevant and timely information will be key to the success of elearning in the work environment in the future.

Julian Dable has recently been appointed as a 'regional' manager for elearning specialists Trivantis - his region covers the UK, Ireland, the Nordics, the Baltics, Russia and the Middle East.
He has more than 20 years international software sales expertise and was instrumental in delivering a range of on-line assessment programmes to the US government.
To find out more about Trivantis go to
To contact Julian email [email protected]


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