5 assumptions that you shouldn't make about eLearning


eLearning is one of those industries where there are many different ‘truths’ and assumptions. While this list is only the tip of the iceberg, here are a few of the most common ones we want to address.

#1 More Interactivity Means More Engagement

Finding the right balance of interactivity in any eLearning design is dependent on the topic, desired outcomes and what we know about the audience. One of the great things about eLearning is that we are able to create an experience for the learner, where we can prompt critical thinking, decision making and provide meaningful feedback through interactivity. But there is a fine line between a course that is ‘interactive’, and a course that is disruptive to the learner by forcing them to complete irrelevant and often frustrating challenges. Essentially, in eLearning, there is such a thing as too much of a good thing.

This assumption generally stems from an under-appreciation of the learner, as well as trying to cover up bad instructional design by distracting the learner with something ‘shiny’.

The majority of learners will see straight through this and will stop taking the content seriously since they are not being treated like adults.

More interactivity doesn’t lead to engagement, interactivity with purpose does.

#2 Bigger is Better

There is a common assumption that the best way to get ‘bang for your buck’ from eLearning is by shoehorning as much content in as possible. This perception is common amongst clients who haven’t had someone take the time to help them understand what eLearning is and how to use it most effectively.

Policy related topics seem to be the common offenders. Anyone who’s been in this industry is familiar with the situation where a client has given them four to five full policy documents for an employee induction.  The expectation is that all this content will be covered and assessed.

It also leads to courses that balloon out to 90 minutes and beyond. The learner's attention gets lost by minute 26, but there is a perceived ROI because "look how much content the learner has covered".

Bigger is better, right? Wrong!

The real art to eLearning is taking a topic, working out what we actually want the learner to do, or stop doing and delivering this message as simply as possible.

We don’t need learners to know the policy word for word, we need them to understand how to behave in accordance with the organisation’s expectations.

#3 You Can Force Your Learners to Learn

This is another assumption that leads to a negative experience for the learner and ultimately, disengagement. It commonly manifests itself in such things like forced retry of learning checks, or forcing a learner to view every piece of content in the course.

Adults generally don’t appreciate being treated like children.

The best way to think of forced content is to remember as a child being told you can’t leave the dinner table until you’ve finished your veggies. I think we can all relate to this. We all know it inevitably leads to carrots in the pot plant or the dog having fantastic eyesight.

The trick is to motivate the learner to want to learn. This is sometimes easier said than done. In general making the content relevant, giving the learner control of their learning, prompting real decision making and delivering the content in an easy to digest way is a great starting point.

Actually, scratch that, those are the foundations. A great starting point is helping the learner understand why they are required to complete the learning and how it benefits them, their organisation and their clients.

#4 eLearning is Just an Alternative to Face to Face Training

As soon as something is considered an ‘alternative’, it’s assumed that it can’t be as good as the thing it is an alternative to. Therefore, the common thought is that there has to be a trade-off; it’s not as good but it will be cheaper.

While strictly speaking eLearning will be cheaper than face to face training, in the long run, this is not the value it should be measured on.

eLearning has many advantages over face to face training, the obvious ones being that it’s on demand, self-paced, accessible anywhere and responsive to the learner’s knowledge level and individual needs.

The way to approach eLearning is to identify the topics that are most suitable to benefiting from the advantages of delivery via eLearning, rather than trying to make it somehow achieve the same outcomes as face to face training.

Ultimately, eLearning is most effective when it’s complemented by a wider learning and development strategy, which neatly brings me to my final point.

#5 eLearning is the Answer to all Your Problems

This is the assumption that many providers in the industry are actually guilty of perpetuating. So I’m going to go ahead and address this as directly as I can; eLearning is never the answer, but it can be part of the answer.

Now that I have given half the industry a heart attack, let me expand on this.

Very often there is a perception that putting staff through an eLearning course will solve a particular problem or help an organisation reach a particular goal.

A common scenario is when as organisation identifies an issue they want to be addressed. For example, staff not using a system correctly. An eLearning provider is brought in to create a piece of systems training. This training is then uploaded to the LMS, staff receive an email indicating they have new training to complete, managers are happy once they see a ‘100%’ beside everyone’s name and the problem is considered addressed.

This approach may lead to a few of the staff members changing their ways, while the rest go back to what they were doing before. This then leads to awkward one-on-one conversations as to why Terry is using the system incorrectly, even though he’s been ‘trained’ on how to use it correctly. It’s always Terry’s fault.

Assuming that the systems training piece itself is well designed and delivered, what’s still missing to make the eLearning effective is the piece that happens before the eLearning is rolled out and the piece that happens after the eLearning is rolled out.

It is critical that there is a communications piece that lets staff know that training is coming, why it’s coming and to spark their interest. It’s important to also let them know how the eLearning will be followed up.

Once the eLearning has been completed there needs to be a strategy that makes sure what has been learned will be supported and reinforced.

  • Will there be ‘champions’ on each team that are the go-to person for any questions about the system?
  • Will there be one-on-one or team follow up meetings with the manager so people have a chance to ask questions and get more insight into the correct way of using the system?
  • How will the positive effects of using the system correctly be measured and celebrated?

When considering eLearning, part of the solution needs to be what happens before and after a learner completes the learning. This could be taking into consideration strategies already in use, or new strategies. If someone tries to tell you otherwise, they are lying.

In Summary

There are many more assumptions, myths and misconceptions about eLearning. The points above are the common ones that we see every day and want to debunk once and for all.

If you've encountered any other misconceptions, or just have general questions about eLearning, get in touch with me at raf@purelearning.com.au.