Someone in the office said “online learning” and echoed down the passageways, coming to rest like a cloud over the open plan work area. Change is coming.
So maybe your organisation is considering developing an online learning programme or even building a shiny, new learning management system (LMS). For some, this will be an exciting project with opportunities to learn and grow. For others, it will be downright terrifying. In this article, I seek to respond to the latter group by exploring some of the fears and sharing some insights.
The best way to understand the change that online learning brings to an organisation is by seeing it through the eyes of the people who have to deal with it. Let me introduce you to the team. These are some of the general reactions from those on the front line:
The Learning and Development (L&D) professional:
“It won’t work. We have spent years training managers and facilitators to run our learning sessions and you can’t replicate that online. It has to be interpersonal. Anyway, why change things when it’s already working? How about we upload the powerpoint slides and manuals so that employees can download them when they need it? That’s a form of eLearning right?”
The Business Executive:
“I am all for digitising the business, but this is not revenue generating. We cannot afford for staff to be spending time on online learning when they could be working. I’m pretty sure that the best way to learn is on the job, so I don’t see the need to spend all this time and money on developing more training material. I never did “eLearning” and I’ve managed just fine.”
The Technical Expert:
“We definitely need to relook at how we train, but I can’t see how online learning is the solution in this case. There is just too much content and not enough time. It would take months for new recruits to learn everything they need to know. While I’d love to help out, I can’t spend my time training newbies when there is so much real work to be done.”
These are some valid points, and I’d be lying if I said that online learning or eLearning is some silver bullet that solves all problems for all people. It can be a sizeable investment and it necessitates change in company culture, the technical environment, and how people engage with learning. And change is scary.
But change can also be good. Really good. Let’s take a closer look at each of the team members and address their core fears.
1. The L&D core fear: What happens to me?
There seems to be a misconception that eLearning will replace learning and development or make it redundant over time. That has not been my experience. What it really does is change the nature of their work by removing repetitive and administrative tasks so that more energy can be spent on monitoring, evaluating and conceptualising learning programmes. Online learning does a lot of the heavy lifting when it comes to presenting learning content. This means that L&D professionals should shift into being learning and development stewards that are able to decipher data being generated by online programmes, and execute the right learning interventions for the right people, at the right time. With a crash-course in basic data analysis and by continuing to listen to your learning workforce, L&D professionals can play a pivotal role in the future of learning within the business.
2. The executive core fear: What if it fails?
If online learning is on your radar, it is not a question of “if” but a question of “when”. Online learning is an answer to a need, not a tech show pony to make it seem like the business is keeping up with the times. There are numerous reasons why online learning might be necessary:
- There is a need to reduce training time.
- Employees need to be inducted into the company culture.
- There is a need to reduce training costs.
- The quality of your output is at risk.
These are compelling reasons but the fear of it failing and reflecting poorly on leadership is still there. The reality is that online learning never has a fixed outcome. It is inherently an iterative, evergreen initiative that responds to the business’ needs. While induction may be the most pressing need today, technical training may be the flavour of tomorrow. This means that you are constantly thinking of new learning programmes to develop, while improving and updating the programmes that have already been developed.
Online learning gives leadership the ability to respond to internal business needs quickly and measure the effectiveness of online interventions. Within online learning, success and failure do not exist as mutually exclusive experiences. Rather, they are a spectrum of learning outcomes achieved and learner-generated data to help you plot your programmes on that spectrum.
3. The technical expert core fear: You have to earn it
It is not easy to become an expert in anything. According to journalist and author Malcolm Gladwell, it can take as long as 10 000 hours to master something. So, it makes sense that technical experts would feel that you cannot take shortcuts by creating online learning in their area of expertise. Not to mention that, quite frankly, they’d prefer to stay the expert — it’s what makes them valuable. True enough. There are no shortcuts and without expert knowledge, no online programme can be created anyway.
But think about it: being an expert has its benefits. However, it can mean that you are often isolated and constantly called upon to deal with small issues that don’t require much expertise in the first place (have you tried turning it off and on again?). Take the opportunity to scale your knowledge. Not only will it allow you to step away from common, repetitive tasks but it will signal that you are a proactive team player who also wants to see others grow.
With fewer small, shallow tasks passing over your desk, you will be freed up to tackle more complex and creative tasks that really require your hard-earned expertise. That’s where the magic is. As for there being too much to learn, online learning should provide learning in bite-size chunks and according to what a person needs. There may be libraries worth of knowledge out there but the focus should be on what is most important and what will create the most impact. The rest can be learned later or stay with the experts.
While there are certain conflicting factors to consider, there are also some possibilities that are worth exploring. If change can set your company up for increased efficiency, a more skilled workforce or even just a greater feeling of support in personal development, then it might be worth taking the plunge. But be warned, deciding to start is only the first step. Once you start, you never really finish because life-long learning is the new standard. But more on that another time.