Reports from the Field: Learning to Save Money

February 2, 2011

If we’re going to seek positive results from workplace learning and performance (training) efforts, we need to redefine the terms of the conversation many of us are having.

“How to Promote the Value of Online Training Within Your Organization,” an eight-page report first posted online in April 2009 as a jointly produced effort by Training Industry, Inc. and Citrix/Online to promote the benefits of online distance learning with the sort of services and products Citrix provides, remains typical of much of what we find in online and print discussions about e-learning. The white paper accurately presents online learning as an effective way to save money by reducing costs—and never takes us much further than that premise. It never really delves into the learning part of e-learning.

There is no denying that training must be cost-effective. Nor is there any reason to deny that online learning significantly reduces travel costs—up to “40 cents of every dollar spent on in-person training goes to travel and lodging costs, studies show” (p. 2), and those costs disappear when learning moves online—and can be more convenient since learning is delivered to learners rather than learners being delivered to learning opportunities.

But we need to take a broader view of training-teaching-learning and its impact if we’re going to be effective and inspire positive change—the purpose of training-teaching-learning when all is said and done. The writers of the report accurately note that “thousands of full- and part-time students are enrolled in distance learning programs” and “global corporations train remote audiences without regard to language and geographic barriers” (p. 2), but they never substantially ask a basic question: are these learners having positive and productive experiences that justify all that goes into e-learning—or any other sort of learning, for that matter?

The answer is clearly less than obvious and encouraging. Central Michigan University professors Karl Smart and James Cappel, for example, offer a thoughtful and detailed analysis in their 2006 Journal of Information Technology Education article “Students’ Perceptions of Online Learning: A Comparative Study”; we, as readers, are left with the obvious conclusions that e-learning is about far more than cutting costs, and that those who set cost as their overarching concern would do well to broaden their point of view. Corey Brouse’s “Undergraduate Students’ Reactions to Online Learning Related to Health Promotion and Wellness” from the Spring 2007 issue of the Journal of the Research Center for Educational Technology, takes us closer to what my own experience as a trainer-teacher-learner suggests: that effective e-learning benefits from including face-to-face contact rather than being seen as a complete replacement—through what is commonly known as blended learning.

What we’re really talking about here is trying to move past the artificial either-or choices of e-learning vs. onsite classroom-based learning and focusing more on “learning” as a goal with many formats from which we can choose. And if we start by moving away from cost-containment as the major selling point and make cost part of an overall package leading to effective and results-producing efforts, the benefits of e-learning cited in “How to Promote the Value of Online Training Within Your Organization” become even more compelling.

Next: The eLearning Guild’s “Getting Started with e-Learning 2.0.”


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