E-learning…..what’s the point?

So….ask yourself this…..when was the last time you did a good bit of e-learning?

Coming from the perspective of someone who works within the industry, and has done for the past eight years, even I’d struggle to answer this. Now I’ve seen some great examples, but they’ve always been from the perspective of being shown it by someone who has developed it for a client with a massive budget.

I used to get really irritated by hearing people say “you can’t deliver that by e-learning”, and I’ve spent a good percentage of the past eight years tackling that view – and I think, to a degree, I’ve been successful in that. The only time I really hear that view now is when we’re talking about a practical skills – because yes – potentially you can teach the practical skill (or at least teach the theory behind the practical skill), but you can’t assess the practical (physical) skill.

So, that’s a success….right?

Well, yes – but……now people just use e-learning to churn stuff out en masse to meet a tick box. Compliance is a great example of this. Like many NHS Trusts, and probably other companies, one of our biggest challenges is meeting compliance targets. In this instance, e-learning becomes the best way to deliver some information to a large number of people, in an efficient way (time and cost). The module created in year one, can be reused in years two and three, thus saving thousands in training delivery costs – but what’s the real cost of this?

Financially – the outlay may be about a thousand, which to deliver compliance for ten thousand people for three years seems great – but how many of them enjoy it? When was the last time you heard someone say “I really enjoyed doing my Fire Safety training this year?” – my guess is never – let’s face it – you probably couldn’t think of the last time you enjoyed it – let alone someone else!

So why do people have a negative opinion about e-learning?

Well…..the problem is that too frequently the approach taken is to manufacture the content as quickly as possible. In many cases, your Subject Matter Expert (SME) wants to give you the content they use for their face-to-face sessions – and expects you to dump it in one end of the machine – and the training will pop out the other. The worst part of this is, even as a developer who is aware of this, the organisational need for a quick box ticking often outweighs the possibility of producing something engaging.

Picture it this way – if two people you know (or don’t know) are having a conversation, and you can over-hear. When their conversation ends – have you learnt something new? Yes, the chances are, listening in, you probably did learn something. Was it an enjoyable experience? No – you weren’t the focus, you were an outsider and the two people talking didn’t stop their chat to ensure that you understood everything. This is what happens when you just convert a course that an SME has written for a face-to-face delivery.

What can you do differently?

Firstly – let’s just confirm – I might have an opinion – but that doesn’t necessarily mean we are able to deliver it correctly. However, the approach we’re now taking is trying to deliver every project differently. We’re trying to combine different styles with every new package. Some of our packages are delivered in a completely user focused way (so that the user has complete control about which chapter to access, which parts they way to view), whereas others are delivered in a story telling style, placing the user directly into the decision making process.

I’ve talked many times before in previous blog posts about the options and desire to move away from “contained packages” – however the regulations by which we are observed and monitored against mean that in a number of cases, this is simply not possible. We are required to frame the content, and assess in order to confirm compliance. As much as I continually fight the corner against “click next” – actually – a good, well designed and written e-learning package, is as good as any other delivery.


All of these comments and thoughts don’t tackle the underlying issue. The underlying issue is that e-learning is seen by regulators (and SMEs) as a quick fix, often for a tick box – and when combined with the growth of rapid development tools – a large percentage of the e-learning produced is really not very good.

However, the bit that underpins all of this, is that person who builds it. The web designer, the instructional designer, the e-learning developer – whatever the job title is – it’s that person. Until that person, the one who’s responsible for creating the packages, takes the responsibility and stands up against the SME and insists that the content needs to be written specifically for e-learning development – then designs accordingly – the end result is that none of this will get better – we still won’t enjoy doing e-learning,

Am I wrong?

I’d love to hear from anyone reading this who agrees/disagrees with anything I’ve said above. If you have “enjoyed doing e-learning” – what was it you enjoyed? My guess is that the e-learning you enjoyed wasn’t a traditional packaged piece, but instead e-learning in it’s wider sense….not just that compliance package which everyone thinks is e-learning…..


…..the real problem is actually that most people forget that e-learning isn’t just a contained package to click through….and when you remember that – you can remember the good video you saw only a few hours ago, or that website you found after you googled your problem – both of those taught you exactly what you needed to know…..then you realise that e-learning is worth it…..and that’s the point of e-learning!