Exiting from E-Learning

Who among us has not fallen into the YouTube Trap? It starts off innocently enough. You just wanted to watch that two-minute video of a baby panda sneezing. But before that video is even done, you’re already thinking about which video you want to watch next! Should you watch that dog skateboarding your friend sent you the link to last night or the golden classic: the Jurassic Park Honest Trailer you’ve already watched sixty times. And before you know it, you’ve been watching YouTube videos for half an hour!

The YouTube Trap is a common occurrence, and it’s no wonder why. With so much video content available on so many different platforms from television to Vines, we are more easily able to find, view, and share content that draws our interest or connects with us. And because of this saturation of content, if you are trying to relay a message, sell a product, or teach a skill, it has never been more important to offer it in a clear, concise, and creative way. And this is especially true in the corporate learning space.

And it is impossible today to talk about corporate learning without the conversation quickly becoming dominated by E-Learning. Encompassing a wide variety of sub-topics, formats and styles, E-Learning can range from compliance and on-boarding training all the way to VR and AI simulations that can be used to teach highly-specialized tasks. And on the surface, the promises of E-Learning are great for both businesses and their employees. Digital programs are easy to buy and employees are able to complete the training on their own time. That sounds like a win-win!

However, while E-Learning has been successful in offering more technical training, it has not lived up to its promises for soft skills and leadership development. A recent survey conducted by Bersin by Deloitte found that while 97% of managers used some form of digital learning every year, 80% said that their company’s digital training for soft skills and leadership development were not adequate. In fact, when asked whether they preferred E-Learning or face-to-face training, 83% of managers said that they actually preferred face-to-face professionally training, and for employees under the age of 35 that number rose to 89%!

Those numbers are likely the opposite of what you would expect. In a world of constant video streaming and easily accessible content, how can there not be effective soft skills training? And even more surprising, why would early-career millennials prefer in-person training?  The answer, as it turns out, is two-fold:

High-Stakes Content

Between our work and personal devices, employees now have access to more learning content than ever before. And a large part of the difficulty in creating effective E-Learning is that we, as users of the training, have become pickier. We will sit through compliance training that is assigned to us, but our expectations for higher-level training are often higher. And when it comes to leadership training, we tend to be even more selective because the topic is one we are actively choosing to invest in, and as result, our expectations are even higher still.

Think about it this way. Why does the YouTube Trap occur? Because we like the content. It’s interesting, relevant, entertaining, and (usually) short. This is now the same model that we know apply to any sort of content we view online or remotely, and it’s a challenging one to meet! If you don’t grab my attention, my mind is going to wander during an online training session and I’m that much more likely to answer emails, fiddle with a project, or tune it out altogether.

Instructors and Experiences Matter

Based on what we’ve already mentioned, it should come as no surprise that less than half of the participants surveyed in Bersin’s survey said their soft skills E-Learning content was any good. And what’s also interesting about the survey is that when participants were asked what they liked more about the in-person training experience versus E-Learning modules, they overwhelmingly said it was the experience.

And if we stop to think about it, that makes sense as well. While the main benefit of E-Learning is flexibility and avoiding traveling for a training program, in reality, in-person training offers greater connection points for the trainee. We remember people and experiences, and a great instructor or pleasant trip can actually allow us to absorb more training than we would from watching a video or talking with a chat bot.

Training is an investment in someone and is often a sign that the company values an employee and wants to help them grow their career. And when that investment is created as a unique and unplugged opportunity rather than just another assigned checkbox to be completed on your own time, participants not only get more out of the training, but companies get a better return for their investment.

So where does this leave the promises of E-Learning? I would say that they are somewhere in the middle. For leadership development and soft skills training, E-Learning is simply not as effective as in-person training. As a tune-up or supplemental tool, E-Learning does have added value, but relying on it as the sole means of training is not an effective solution.

What do you think about E-Learning? Have you had a positive or negative experience with E-Learning Training. We want to know! Head back to Base Camp and join the conversation!