E-learning is now so integrated into our daily use of the internet that we barely recognise it as learning. Whether it is reading a blog, a linked-in post, watching a TED talk or subscribing to a webinar, e-learning has challenged the traditional frameworks of classroom training and learning.
The Journey So Far
E-learning by definition, is learning conducted via electronic media – typically on the Internet. With origins in distance learning, the rise in popularity of e-learning is fast accelerating.
Websites such as Udemy.com offer an online marketplace for would be trainers to upload their video content on virtually any topic from health and fitness to teacher training. Whereas, the Lynda.com website generate their own video content and control the quality of the material they produce.
And it’s not just entrepreneurs who are taking advantage of the explosion of e-learning. Universities in the United States offer whole degrees online, while here in New Zealand, five polytechnics have recently combined to launch the online learning platform called TANZ ecampus.
The real advantage of e-learning is that it is affordable and available. Access to webinars and TED Talks mean that we can listen to leading authorities in our own time and at our convenience. We no longer need to take the time to read lengthy books or scholarly articles but now have the capacity to absorb large amounts of information within short time frames.
Corporate e-learning, however, has suffered in reputation. Early efforts to take training online have resulted in content which is often neither interesting nor engaging. PowerPoint presentations which are uploaded online lack the human engagement and meaning that a speaker conveys. Word documents uploaded online have the same numbing effect. For e-learning to be effective, the design and delivery platform need to be carefully planned. The traditional rules around training no longer apply.
Gaming, gamification and game-based learning
From monopoly to mini-golf, games provide the source of many a family argument. However, games engage our competitive nature and make learning fun. The outcome is learning which is more likely to be retained. Within the e-learning environment, there are three types of game based learning. Firstly, games such as Minecraft.net where play comes first and the primary aim is winning or losing. There is usually a storyline, plot or a scene to engage us. Games such as these can be used for team work or mind exercises, such as Lumosity.com.
Whereas, game based learning has defined learning objectives, in other words, learning is the key objective. The aim is to motivate people to take action or learn as a result. The content is usually adapted to fit the story and scenes of the game.
Gamification is the use of game elements such as rewards and achievement levels, in a non-game situation. Leader boards, badges and rewards are some of the ways to encourage people to engage in training.
The main advantage of games is the drive, engagement and fun they create. When used effectively in corporate e-learning they can take the place of the traditional table tennis ladder to drive healthy competition within a workplace.
Many of us are familiar with Siri, Apple’s mobile phone voice controlled personal assistant. Bots or chat bots, such as Siri, have continued to evolve. Basically, if the interaction is with a non-human entity, and at least vaguely resembles the back-and-forth nature of conversation, it’s a bot. Google voice search on mobile phones is one example of the development of bots.
As we become more comfortable with interacting with a bot, they will become more prevalent and the line between apps and bots will merge. Microsoft are currently working via Skype to develop a service where you book flights and accommodation online by talking to a bot. Already, telemarketing phone calls are delivered by bot to your home phone.
There are significant implications for training. Imagine the possibility of preparing for a difficult meeting where raising an issue will likely result in managing conflict between team members. In preparation for the meeting, you create a number of scenarios that you present to the bot and receive feedback on likely outcomes. This enables you to select the most appropriate message to deliver to the team to drive the most productive outcome, along with ways to manage the conflict.
Videos, when well produced, are engaging, user-friendly and easy to access. Editing software means that videos have evolved to the point that they can be interactive. Videos can now be viewed across devices and because they often use real people, we can relate to them.
However, time, cost and quality are major constraints to video production. Poorly produced videos using unprepared scripts, storyboarding and actors or characters are real barriers to successful e-learning content. In addition, internet speed can limit access to viewing.
Nevertheless, when well produced and edited, videos can provide an interesting and engaging platform to demonstrate information. Videos are able to take on the role of a presenter who delivers the training and demonstrate role plays. As such, videos have become a well-used tool despite the time and cost to produce them.
The future of e-learning
Critics of e-learning emphasise that the element of human interaction that is part of face to face learning cannot be replaced. Leadership training, for example, requires that people develop both self-awareness and skill development in communication to become confident and competent leaders.
However, a combination of e-learning and face-to-face coaching provides a very powerful learning experience giving the best of both worlds. The training programme becomes highly tailored, very flexible, synergistic and user-friendly. Participants take the e-learning module which is followed up by a coach or peer mentor who provides additional resources and the opportunity to practice skills. Together, this ensures that learning is applied to consistent standards across the organisation.
Whatever your personal views on the effectiveness of e-learning, what is clear is that the field is developing quickly. Whether it’s games, bots or videos e-learning is transforming our access to learning and development.
Written by Julie Varney as the leading article in the Human Resources Institute of New Zealand magazine, Winter 2016 edition. HRINZ Winter Issue 2016 – Games, Bots and Videos 4-5