E-learning is dead; long live e-learning!

A journalist wrote to me, “The CIPD’s Learning & Development Survey 2007 found that e-learning is regarded as the least effective learning medium (apart from self study). Its
use has dropped from 54 per cent in 2005 to 48 per cent. However, 67 per cent say they intend to increase its use in the next forseeable future. So the questions are:

1. As someone closely involved in the sector, does this news frustrate and disappoint you?
2. How can organisations increase its effectiveness?
3. Where, in your experience, do organisations often go wrong?”

Here is my (open) answer.
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No doubt there is a strong temptation for the Jeremiahs to hang their heads in despair and go back to selling Life Assurance, and for cynics to beat their breasts and rush off manically shrieking “We told you e-learning must fail; let’s get back to basics!”

Let’s be very careful about the terms of reference we use to make sense of these findings.
What did the question mean by e-learning? What did it mean by effective learning medium? What context was to be inferred – e-learning for what; e-learning in which of its many forms, used by whom and under what circumstances? Bespoke or generic? Home-made or produced externally? What tools were used? How competent were the analysts/designers/developers and how did they acquire their skills?

Or is the question divorced from all context? Isn’t that a little like asking, “How often did you manage to introduce the word “mullions” into everyday conversation last month?” Well it depends upon whether or not you are in the construction industry.

But what construction can put upon these findings? How can we tell if CIPD is the bringer of good or bad news?

Maybe the reported decrease in the use of e-learning signals that indiscriminate use is in decline. That would be good news.

Maybe it means that those who responded had a narrower definition of
e-learning than you and I. Were they at last discovering that there is no such thing as an effective single-medium programme of intervention to bring about any form of behavioural or organisational change? If so then we must regard that too as good news.

Forget the trend and look at the figures.

Only 2% of respondents cite e-learning as the most effective way to learn.
With due respect to CIPD and its researchers, how useful a question is that? How misleading are the conclusions that might ensue?

6% of diners said they liked carrots, so let’s stop eating meat or broccoli.

What of this 48%? You mean to say almost half of those polled are still using e-learning? Surely more good news and a figure I’d regard as proportionate, given the state of maturity of the
e-learning industry and of many of its consumers.

On-the-job training was picked out – by four in ten respondents – as the most effective way people learn. Surely OJT and e-learning techniques are not mutually exclusive; one hand washes the other. In my book e-elearning tools and techniques are very successfully applied to OJT.

A fifth of respondents think formal training courses are the most effective method of learning; of learning what, and by whom, and in combination with what other forms of encouragement enrichment or reward?

One final thought; The Survey also found that over half of respondents (54%) rated their line managers’ contribution to learning and development as either ‘effective’ or ‘very effective’ whereas 44% say that their line managers are ‘not very effective’ in this context. Conclusion? Let’s do away with Line Managers. Meanwhile I’ll go and get my knitting and get ready for the next auto da fe.

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