Is it possible to learn everything online? Yes… but it does not always make sense. However, if we look at the latest market research, we can see that digital solutions are beginning to dominate and that more and more resources are being allocated to them. Users want to be able to learn remotely and companies are rapidly changing their training strategies and investing in new technologies. However, things are not always that optimistic.
For many years I have participated in discussions in which I have tried to convince the other side to educate themselves online. I have often encountered statements such as “this cannot be learned online”, “e-learning is not suitable for this subject”, “online training is much less effective than in the training room.” I assume that, in many cases, such options were the result of bad experience or lack of knowledge on modern educational formats. In this article I will try to dispel those myths.
E-learning, meaning what?
The discussion about e-learning should be begun with its definition, which is very often incorrect or incomplete. E-learning has a long tradition and is still developing, but in many people’s minds it is still associated with webinars, videos or asynchronous online training provided by the e-learning platform. However, online education is a much richer ecosystem, which I am convinced many of you, perhaps even unwittingly, use every day. Jane Hart conducts an annual survey to identify the most popular tools used in education. It is based on a survey filled out by people all over the world, in which 10 specific tools, platforms, services that we use in education, should be identified and categorised, if we use them at work, at school or for our own development. The result is a list with the 100 most popular answers. You are probably wondering what is on the podium? YouTube, Google Search and… Powerpoint, i.e. tools and services that have been created not necessarily with education in mind. Jane divides these technologies into four different, but complementary categories:
- formal education
- informal education
- social education
- support for self-development
In each of these groups, we have successive subgroups with specific solutions. What is important and what I wrote about in one of my previous entries is the training ecosystem they create. E-learning is not only a tool, but also a variety of training formats and methods that intertwine and complement each other. It includes both simple instructions and ebooks as well as complex simulations in VR and systems to personalise the learning process supported by artificial intelligence. However, the human is the key. Without proper knowledge of how to use different technologies effectively, we will not create a training or programme that will bring real benefits. Therefore, we should think about it broadly, without focusing solely on our experiences.
Is e-learning effective?
Let us analyse the first myth about the efficiency of e-learning. In Poland, for many years, there had been an initial delight in online training, which popped up like mushrooms under the first EU subsidies. Many people and companies using simple authoring tools have started to create and sell simple e-learning “trainings”. Their quality and effects were low, which discouraged many people to this format. The situation improved over time and customers began to pay attention to the quality. However, there is still a lack of awareness of the effectiveness of e-learning in our market. Most of the people we ask about it (whether or not they are participants or organisers) will tell us that it works well for process or purely knowledge-based training. However, in the case of soft, managerial or team training, indoor activities are irreplaceable. Research indicates something completely different, though. We just need to remember the broad definition I have given above.
Will Thalheimer, Patti Shank and Mirjam Neelen have been involved for many years in promoting knowledge about effective online teaching and dispelling myths. Sometimes they even announce competitions that encourage people to seek the truth. Thanks to them we do not need to spend days or hours reading extensive studies, but to focus on the substance and the proper implementation of their main conclusions. On the subject of efficiency, Thalheimer prepared a summary of studies comparing the effectiveness of on-site and online training. What are the results?
If we make optimal use of the potential of both formats, e-learning is more effective.
The key is not the format, but the training method itself.
The best training results are achieved by mixing both formats (blended learning).
To sum up, the problem of e-learning is not the efficiency, but the lack of knowledge of how to use its potential optimally. If this is successful, there is no better way to build new competences, regardless of the market, position, experience or topic.
Will e-learning work in any training topic?
Another myth concerns training topics that cannot be “passed on” effectively in e-learning. The main accusations relate to lack of contact with another person, interaction, or the possibility of checking in practice the competences held or acquired. This would be true if we limited e-learning to webinars or asynchronous training made available on the e-learning platform. However, the technology has advanced significantly, enabling us to build engagement and interaction like never before.
VR simulations, educational games, social networking sites or chatbots allow not only to transfer knowledge but also to test it in practice, anywhere and at any time. Some time ago I recommended a great application to practice presentation skills. However, this is just the tip of the iceberg. Modern social environments enable immersion impossible to achieve in the training room, and exercise both individually and in groups. PwC has recently published the results of a very interesting study comparing stationary training with simple online and virtual reality training. Conclusions? It turns out that VR training:
- enable knowledge to be acquired much more quickly;
- increase the participants’ confidence;
- cause a much greater focus and identification with the issue presented;
- on an appropriate scale, they turn out to be the cheapest training format, despite the large initial investment.
It is up to us to choose the right format. In one place you only need a simple video-instruction or webinar, in another you need an e-learning course or on-site training, and in another you need a training in VR. Not always the most expensive or the most interactive means the best. The stationary and online training complement each other very well and their effectiveness depends on the designers/trainers, not the format.
How to learn effectively online?
However, it must be taken into account that e-learning also requires preparation from participants. With asynchronous formats, where we do not have constant contact with other people or the trainer, it is much more difficult to get motivation and focus. That is why it is necessary to properly prepare our timetable, the learning environment, as well as take care of the proper course of learning and breaks. A very short but super practical course on effective online learning has recently appeared on the edX platform. It contains guidelines, tools and materials that we can use to:
- get as much out of online activities as possible;
- reduce concentration problems;
- find time for learning and for the tasks;
- create the perfect learning environment.