Last reviewed 22 April 2020

In this article, Judith Christian-Carter, considers what is required for eLearning to be fit for purpose.

Surprising as it may seem but eLearning has been used as a means of delivering learning for three decades. However, its rite of passage to “adulthood” has been far from easy, frequently with one step forward followed by several backwards! This roller-coaster ride continues today but there is a growing body of opinion that, in order to ensure eLearning is fit for meeting the learning needs of workers everywhere, some sort of renaissance is required.

Since its inception in the 1990s, eLearning has encountered many ups and downs over the last three decades. There is now a requirement to consider what eLearning can be, should be and what it can achieve as a delivery channel for learning. Not only has the available technology changed and developed, but so has the workforce and what they need to learn.

As part of this consideration, there is also a need to look at the place of the traditional Learning Management System (LMS). A growing number of Learning and Development (L&D) professionals are now of the view that the traditional LMS is out of date and out of place, particularly when considering the place of learning in organisations, the needs of the modern workforce and the seismic shift in the technology being used in all aspects of how organisations operate today.

eLearning today

It would not be unreasonable to say that eLearning today is something of a curate’s egg. From the early days, when some excellent eLearning courses or programmes were produced using very limited technology, when compared to that available today, eLearning provision has become a mish-mass of both the good and the bad. As a result of two key drivers, time and money, there is far too much eLearning out there which is dull, boring, basic or overly complex, poorly designed, ineffective as far as learning is concerned, uninspiring and not fit for purpose.

Those commissioning eLearning all too often want a quick and cheap solution. These requirements, together with software development tools, has led to the embedding of “rapid” eLearning development in the production workflow. However, the old adage, “garbage in, garbage out” is still applicable: if the underpinning design is poor, then so will be the outcome. Likewise with the proliferation of other questionable design features, such as “locking”, the use of an eLearning programme to make sure that the learner has to access every screen in order to get to the end, thereby preventing them from “pulling” what they need there and then. All these factors have led to a large number of poorly designed and produced eLearning programmes at a time when today’s workforce demands quality learning opportunities.

Quality content

Quality content is not only up to date but it is also relevant. Research shows that almost 40% of employees go to Google before asking a co-worker or using their employer’s learning provision. Today’s knowledge worker needs to know how to discover relevant content quickly, which means that while this content may be available on the organisation’s learning platform or LMS, it is more than likely not to be difficult and time-consuming to find. This is where content curation comes into play.

Technology solutions are now available which aggregate content from millions of courses around the web. By choosing a topic, keywords and websites, the L&D professional is then presented with a live stream of all the latest and most relevant content. This stream can then be plugged into the learning platform to make it much easier for learners to engage with. The next development will be for such platforms to understand a learner’s skill gaps, based on their courses and performance, and then to tailor the curated content to present information that will help bridge those gaps. It’s still eLearning but not as it’s currently known today.

User-generated content

User-generated content (UGC) is a natural evolution from social learning and currently makes up the vast proportion of digital content, such as Facebook posts, YouTube videos and Instagram photos. Most people are exposed on a daily basis to UGC; not only does it reach them effectively but, even more importantly, they are readily engaged with it. Furthermore, the learning technology available today enables learners to create their own content and to share it with others in the organisation.

Seeing content created by colleagues and the fact that they are willing to share this content with others, not only builds trust but also connects people and reinforces its relevance, besides removing the dependency on one-size-fits-all content as the only means of provision. Learning then becomes a two-way process as learners provide feedback to those creating the content, encouraging discussion which improves knowledge sharing across the organisation.

While this may be a major culture-shift for many organisations and L&D functions, the following should be borne in mind: “An organisation has to be willing to let go, to a certain extent. You have to have some faith that you’ve hired some smart people and people want to learn from each other. So we have to make that happen. As long as there are controls and permissions to ensure the right information is being shared, then that will address the hesitance or reservations in leveraging user-generated content.” (David Wentworth, Brandon Hall Group, 2020).

Learning platforms

The current trends in the use of learning technologies, such as mobile learning apps, chatbots and personalised learning, have served to show the inadequacies of the traditional LMS. Consequently, several learning technology providers are now providing learning platforms that not only allow for experiential and collaborative learning by providing social learning tools, but also for personalised and automated learning through the use of artificial intelligence (AI) engines. In addition, the use of these learning platforms generates very different and extremely useful data sets when compared with a traditional LMS.

“HR orgs are strategising for personalised, unstructured L&D — they see the correlation between employee-specific career journeys and increased engagement and retention. To get this strategy right takes an investment in next-gen adaptive analytics that break traditional expectations for stage-based learning to follow employee behavioural patterns. Behaviourally-driven programing is where the future of L&D is and this is indicative of a bigger future in adaptive and behavioral analytics.” (Zachary Chertok, Aberdeen Group, 2020).

Meeting the expectations of today’s learners

There are seven questions which L&D professionals should be asking about how they are using eLearning.

  1. Can we address the requirement for formal and informal learning in a single environment or platform?

  2. Do we have visibility into the informal learning that is being undertaken by learners in the organisation?

  3. Can our employees access learning content in a variety of formats from both inside and outside the organisation?

  4. Can both formal and informal learning content be curated based on learner’s unique interests, job roles and goals?

  5. Can learners explore their areas and skills of interest and get recommendations for appropriate learning content?

  6. Can our learners tag, share and upload content on their own, participate in group discussions, contribute blogs and engage with other learners?

  7. Are we supporting and maintaining multiple systems to deliver a more personalised learning experience?

By answering “yes” to all these questions means that the eLearning being provided is fit for 2020 and beyond.