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How elearning can help you and your learners

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Recent research suggests that as much as 25% of all training fails to achieve its goal - helping people to do their jobs better. Dr Allen Partridge looks at the advantages of elearning.

There are two common explanations for this problem. It may be that the training content itself wasn't relevant; perhaps because it wasn't delivered at the right time, or didn't contain the right information. In other instances, it may be that the information was relevant, but the employee didn't retain enough knowledge to be able to apply it in their daily role.

The solution

Fortunately, elearning can help address both of these problems – and particularly if delivered as part of a blended learning programme, combining online and face-to-face training.
For example, classroom-based learning is frequently not relevant to employees. It is delivered according to a specific schedule, which might not coincide with an employee's need. Moreover, it is designed to be applicable to a group audience, while the people attending a particular course may have different needs and priorities.
With elearning it's possible to create bespoke training content that can be delivered and accessed precisely when a student needs it. And with elearning development tools it's possible to create customised learning content based on new or existing learning materials, without needing any specific programming skills. 
 
"With elearning it's possible to create bespoke training content that can be delivered and accessed precisely when a student needs it."
For example, you might need to deliver health and safety training to a group of employees. With elearning, it's possibe to create a training programme that can easily be extended or customised for specific job roles, rather than trying to deliver a physical course that meets the needs of everyone attending.

Advantages

What's more, elearning offers some powerful pedagogical advantages that mean students tend to retain more knowledge from training courses. A survey published by the US Department of Education in 2009, based on 12 years of data, found that students on elearning courses consistently outperformed students who only had face-to-face teaching.
There are several explanations for this. For starters, elearning can be much closer to reality than a classroom-based course. An elearning programme may include video footage and highly specific simulations that incorporate a specific company's branding and procedures.
With today’s elearning development tools, content can be highly engaging and interactive – bringing material to life in a way that is extremely difficult to achieve in a classroom. A good elearning programme might incorporate video, audio, interactive quizzes and simulations and sophisticated workflow.
This content can also be delivered at the right pace for each learner, rather than requiring students to work at a pace defined by a training facilitator. The modular nature of elearning means courses tend to be shorter (25-60% cheaper than classroom-based courses, on average) but they also allow students to stop when they're tired or bored, and to revisit modules as often as they need, while being able to make mistakes in private, rather than in front of colleagues. Students can also access training at a time that's convenient for them, meaning completion rates tend to be higher, too.

Elearning in business

From a corporate perspective, elearning offers some compelling advantages. There's no denying that elearning is significantly cheaper than classroom-based teaching, as it offers zero travel cost and a minimal cost of deployment. Furthermore, if companies develop their own training content, there are no ongoing licensing costs, making bespoke training a particularly attractive option.
Using elearning also gives companies the confidence that training is being delivered consistently – no matter which country students are in, or who is facilitating training, you can be confident that the information presented is identical.
Finally, elearning doesn't just deliver better performance – it makes that improvement more visible. It's possible to see how many students have completed a particular training module, what they scored, and to see an overview of pass and fail rates – without the need for a specific learning management system (LMS).
The Department for Education research found that while students undertaking elearning did slightly better, on average, than those undertaking classroom-based training, the research clearly showed that the best possible results are achieved by combining the two approaches.
 
"Critics often argue that elearning is isolating for students, but the latest development tools allow developers to build interactivity into training programmes...whereby students can easily ask questions of facilitators and colleagues."
This can deliver financial advantages too, allowing companies to massively reduce the cost of classroom-based training by selectively using elearning in certain situations. For example, delivering preparatory elearning ahead of a classroom-based course can identify areas where the face-to-face training could most usefully focus, as well as freeing up instructors to focus on more complex areas of learning where their expertise is of most value.
Wherever elearning is deployed, it's important to be aware of the possible limitations, and take steps to overcome them. Critics often argue that elearning is isolating for students, but the latest development tools allow developers to build interactivity into training programmes, perhaps through online discussion forums and collaborative workspaces, or even by adding widgets such as Twitter, whereby students can easily ask questions of facilitators and colleagues.

Conclusion

Getting elearning right can be a challenge, but as Generation Y employees enter the workforce in ever-greater numbers, it's a challenge that trainers and educators must address. For students used to using the internet for everything from socialising to shopping and applying for jobs, the notion of accessing training purely in a classroom will soon seem strangely quaint.

As an elearning evangelist, Allen works closely with the elearning Suite and Captivate product teams at Adobe and Adobe's elearning customers, providing a channel for customers to input into product development and best practice. Allen has written several books and serves on the doctoral faculty in the Communications Media and Instructional Technology programme at Indiana University of Pennsylvania. His research includes Immersive Learning as well as traditional multimedia enhanced eLearning and rapid elearning

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