The Workplace is Changing…Why isn’t E-Learning?

Research has demonstrated that formal, lecture-style methods that make up the majority of the conventional e-learning methods is not nearly as effective as a game of Angry Birds or Trivia Crack.

I’m a huge fan of professional development webinars.  Whether they are through the Association for Talent Development, Training Magazine or e-learning vendors such as Allen Interactions, they are an easy way to stay connected with the latest trends in adult education and e-learning.  The only problem I run into is that often I can’t get away from what I’m currently working on to attend the webinars I sign up for.  This ordinarily isn’t a big issue since most of them are recorded and they send you the access link after the fact in case you missed it, but if you don’t keep up with watching those recordings they can pile up quickly.  Case in point?  My current Gmail task list of webinars I need to watch has 30 entries!

Where to begin??

Where to begin??

But I look at this as a good problem to have.  After all, I love learning new things, and keeping my fingers on the pulse of adult education is not only important to my job, it is important to my career and to myself personally.

Yesterday I did get some time to watch a webinar featuring Michael Rochelle, Chief Strategy Officer at Brandon Hall Group and Leslie Farinella, Vice President of Customer Success at Xyleme presented by Training Magazine.  The webinar was called How to Create Content to Attract the Modern Learner, and while much of it was a plug for using Learning Content Management Systems (LCMS) to help manage your e-learning program, they did point out how the world of adult education and e-learning are being impacted by new research and new workplace trends, but education has been slow to adapt to those changes.

The idea of learning modalities and their effectiveness has been on my mind quite a bit lately for two reasons:  Firstly, because I’ve heard several news stories and seen several articles pointing out that Millennials (the much-maligned-by-their elders generation born between 1980-2000) now represent 1/3 of the working population in the US, and they are going to quickly ascend to workforce majority status in the next few years.  While I’m not a huge fan of grouping people into generations simply to ascribe attributes to them, it is sometimes useful to illustrate broader cultural changes through this lens.  The second reason this has been on my mind lately is because I am currently finishing up my final class for certification as a Health Information Technology Workflow Analyst/Training Specialist, a class which happens to be called Training and Instructional Design.  Fortunately for me, I am currently in the Adult Education field, so I am aware at how out-of-date the methodology proscribed in that course is.  It is at least five to ten years behind the curve.  Training methodologies proscribed in the course include using formal, measurable objectives (see my issue with these in Objection to Objectives) and instructions to create e-learning using PowerPoint, import voice and presto…you have successful e-learning!  No; you don’t have successful e-learning.  You have a snooze-fest guaranteed not only to squander an opportunity to produce results, but to induce your learners into a nap.


So how has adult education been impacted by new research and new trends in the workplace?  It’s been shaken up!  Research has demonstrated that formal, lecture-style methods that make up the majority of the conventional e-learning methods is not nearly as effective as a game of Angry Birds or Trivia Crack.  Take a look at this snippet from the Creating Content webinar showing the results of research into current corporate learning modalities and their effectiveness conducted by BHG and L&D Benchmarking.  This is by far the most favored method of education and training:

The Conventional MethodsPercentagesReference

So that’s the conventional methods.  Highly used, but not so high on the effective side of things.  Is that really a surprise though?  Formal learning units and modules are fine for certain things, but think about how you acquire knowledge during the normal day.  Do you have time to take a formal course to figure out how to do something?  Or do you pull out your smart phone and ask Google?  If you are like me, you ask Google, get the answer you need to finish your task, and then move on with your day.

Moving a little farther down the graph, we have this:

Effectiveness everywhere!See?  Scientific proof that your addiction to Trivia Crack is useful!  In all seriousness though, these methods are far less utilized in adult education, despite the research showing that games, collaborative tools and even podcasts are more effective.  After looking at this chart, is it any wonder that some of the biggest buzzwords in adult education are Scenario-based learning, MicroLearning and Gamification?

Despite all of this knowledge and research, adult education is still plodding along the conventional path.  In fact, it was one of the key factors cited for why MOOC’s (Massive Open Online Courses) haven’t produced the revolutionary results they were expected to deliver.  There are some key players in the field, such as Allen Interactions, who are doing what they can to shake up the industry, but so far it still seems to be the players on the perimeter who are doing the most innovation in the world of e-learning and adult education.  There are many reasons for that (limited money/time/staff, lack of access to technology, etc), but there is also a strong element of resistance to doing anything in a way that isn’t easily and immediately quantifiable.  Such resistance must be overcome, but it won’t be easy.  I am excited to be a part of the field during this time of transition…and in my opinion the change cannot come soon enough!

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