Reports from the Field: “Getting Started With e-Learning 2.0”

February 6, 2011

To move beyond the common practice of seeing e-learning as little more than a way to save money in workplace learning and performance (training) programs, we need go no further than Patti Shank’s “Getting Started with e-Learning 2.0,” a first-rate report published by the eLearning Guild in late 2010.

Drawing from survey responses submitted by more than 850 Guild members—professionals working in e-learning—the report provides an intriguing snapshot of how social media tools are—or aren’t—being used in online learning and, more importantly, provides information about the “top five strategies that respondents feel they need for success with e-Learning 2.0 approaches”: “good content, upper management endorsement, user assistance, piloting, and testimonials” (p. 4).

We know from the beginning of this Guild publication that we’re among colleagues interested in learning. In talking about the increasing tendency to incorporate social networking tools including wikis, blogs, Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, social bookmarking sites such as Delicious and Diigo, and others into online learning opportunities, the writer asks and answers a basic question—“Are these good learning opportunities? You betcha!” (p. 6)—and then delivers a cohesive and easy-to-follow summary of the eLearning Guild survey documentation supporting her conclusion.

The good news for trainers, teachers, and learners is that “social media has become a very big deal” and that its use is continuing to increase rapidly (p. 8). The not-so-good news is that most respondents “don’t feel a great deal of pressure to implement these approaches” (p. 14) and “more than 25% of respondents are making only limited use of e-Learning 2.0 approaches or researching how other organizations are using it” (p. 4).

This is hardly breaking news to those of us who enjoy and are involved in onsite and online education: there are still so many poorly organized and poorly presented workplace learning and performance offerings that it’s not surprising to find skeptical rather than enthusiastic presenters and learners. It also remains true that those trying their first webinar or online course are unlikely to give the medium a second chance if what they face is poorly designed PowerPoint presentations and sessions that lack the levels of engagement that lead to effective learning and the positive change that should follow.

Shank provides concise descriptions and suggested applications for blogs, wikis, social bookmarking, and other aspects of social networking that are becoming part of our online learning toolkit. She also offers useful sections on learning benefits (the fact that learning is socially grounded, so social networking tools are a natural match for the learning process—p. 26), challenges (managers and supervisors who see social networking tools as detracting from rather than adding to the value of their training programs and overall ability to conduct business—pp. 26-30), and results (sharing ideas across departments, improving team collaboration, increasing creativity and problem-solving—p. 31).

Three pages of online references and a two-page glossary round out this useful and learning-centric report, leaving us not only with encouragement about the positive impact e-learning is having, but also with sobering thoughts about how much more there is to accomplish before we have reached our—and its—full potential.

Next: ASTD’s Most Recent “State of the Industry” Report

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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