E-learning: a panacea in training transfer?

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E-learningWe’re inclined to think of e-learning as the final solution – something that can be electronically delivered anywhere and re-accessed as needed until a pass level is achieved. And something that is cheap to deliver and extensible. So is it a training panacea? For an answer, we need to go back to basics and ask first what we expect from training.

Training is an ‘intervention’ into a person’s normal work life with the aim of changing the way they do things. It aims to change some personal characteristic of the trainee – like their competency, behaviour, belief, attitude or ability. In providing training, the firm is usually seeking some incremental improvement in its ability to do more with the same resources or do things more efficiently. In practical terms it’s often re-certification or upgrading on systems.

Training interventions comprise three phases; pre-training, training and post-training. In the pre-training period, the trainee is introduced to the material, has objectives set and is generally encouraged to learn. The training phase is the intervention delivery – in the classroom, in the simulator, in front of the PC e-learning or in reading. And the post-training phase is use of the new learning in the work environment with appropriate management encouragement and support. For success, due emphasis must be given to all three.

For success to be declared, we must have some means of assessing training effectiveness. And the ultimate measure of that is the visible transfer of new competency and ability from classroom, simulator or PC to the work environment. With that must go the adoption of new behaviours emphasising adjusted beliefs and attitudes. The new skills and knowledge must be used and the training objectives met.

So how does e-learning stack up? In pre- and post-training, it’s no better or worse than classroom delivery. Pre- and post-training are management functions and if missing, trainees are said to be simply ‘sheep-dipped’, risking poor transfer.

It’s in delivery and evaluation that advantages are perhaps available. E-learning flexibility can be married with evaluation. An assessment of what the trainee has learned is possible. Whether the trainee makes use of this learning will still be a moot point.

So e-learning is no better or worse that other approaches. If pre- and post-training are in place and if there’s quality delivery, managers may be able to claim better than the paltry 12% transfer enjoyed by the best. But the jury’s still out – e-learning is still too new for us to be able to claim any increased effectiveness overall.

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