Thursday, January 18, 2007

Dealing with eLearning Objections

I just heard that an eLearning project that we had hoped to bid upon is on hold because of "internal resistance." It got me to thinking about the various objections to eLearning that I have heard over the course of my ten years in this field. Here are some of my favourites, and my responses to each.

eLearning is Not as Good as Face-to-Face

Well, I have slept through enough lectures and in-person training sessions / presentations to know that not all face-to-face education and training is all that it is cracked up to be. When will we realize that there can be good and bad approaches in both forms? When an education or training experience is bad, there are usually a host of reasons why this is so (e.g. ill-defined objectives, poor design, lack of interaction and feedback, poor facilitation, etc.) that have nothing to with whether it takes place in a real or virtual learning environment.

I remember hearing one senior representative of a major Canadian university declaring that they would not be offering online courses. They saw this decision as a way of differentiating themselves from the competition. She actually said that they were in the "classroom business." That struck me as a rather odd comment. I thought that they were in the education business. It would be like an airline saying that they are in the 737 business as opposed to the transportation business.

Our People Are Not Ready for eLearning

How do you know? Most people saying this haven't any hard evidence that would justify such a blanket statement. They are often patronizing the target learners. I advocate a little research to determine if your people are ready for eLearning. If you discover that they are using email regularly, doing web searches, using common office software, paying bills online, playing computer games, etc., they can probably handle online learning.

We Don't Have the Technologies or Competencies Necessary to do eLearning

As I have said on many other occasions, there is no need to go out and spend a fortune on a learning management system when just starting out with eLearning. There are a host of free, or nearly free, technologies that one can use in order to find your feet. Also, there are all kinds of options for leasing necessary software and having this hosted externally. And hardly anyone has all the internal competencies (e.g. instructional design, programming, graphic design, technical abilities, etc.) to do eLearning well right out of the gate. You can contract in the needed talent as you learn your way.

eLearning Costs too Much

Compared to what? It is rare to find organizations who have truly costed out exactly what all their face-to-face training efforts cost, especially if far-flung. If they did this I think they would look favourably upon the economics of eLearning, whose higher up-front development costs can be recouped over time via much lower delivery costs.

Also, not many organizations understand the value chain of training (face-to-face or eLearning), and therefore find it difficult to determine its value. Before you can judge if something costs too much, you have to determine the value it produces.

Our Trainers Are Used to the Classroom

Many trainers are uncomfortable with the idea of eLearning. They feel that it is a threat to their job security. However, if done well and integrated well into an organization's training mix, eLearning can provide new and innovative ways for trainers to engage their trainees and can allow them the luxury of devoting precious face-to-face time to the types of learning that are crucial to be done in person (e.g. hands-on training, role playing, human interaction skills development, etc.).

I am not an eLearning fanatic. I do not advocate that all education and training can or should be experienced via eLearning. However, it does have a key role to play in a balanced blended learning approach. Many of the outright objections to introducing it into the mix are the product of ignorance, fear, or the age-old "change is bad" mentality. It's time to take on the myths surrounding eLearning and to manage by fact. Start small, set goals, assess results, adjust, and try again. Scale up only when you have found the eLearning approaches that work for your organization.


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