Is e-learning about to go through a major transformation?

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E-learning has hit the doldrums. Practitioners and customers can protest all they like, but e-learning isn’t delivering on the educational revolution it promised. You only have to look at the student dropout statistics to see that something needs to be done to put it back on the rails.

E-learning is eating into training budgets

E-learning courses are popular with organisations as they are affordable and can be accessed anytime, anywhere by employees. Unfortunately, many organisations are not realising the benefits as learner retention has become a major problem, which means business departments are not getting the results they have paid for.

Take the current average completion rate for MOOCs, massive open online courses. Today this averages out at approximately 15 per cent, which is very low indeed. Some research puts the drop-out rates for online hovering at around 70 per cent compared with an average of 15 per cent for classroom training.

There are a large number of people that just aren’t completing courses their organisations have paid for and engagement rates are worryingly low. Our data suggests that 2 and 3 per cent is not unusual for a large proportion of corporate training modules on offer.

So why do we have this black cloud sitting over e-learning? The simple reason is that we have ignored content in e-learning at the expense of the way we deliver and administer it. This means that the Learning Management System (LMS), which is seen as an enormous benefit by the HR administrator, offers little for the learner. This is a crucial point as if the learner isn’t engaged there is absolutely no learning taking place.

Where is the learner in this picture?

This is exactly where traditional e-learning fails to deliver. There is much in terms of telling and showing, but there just isn’t enough involvement when it comes to the actual learner. So does this mean we need to tear out the LMS? The simple answer here is no. They are a key L&D worker, notably in a large MNC context. But, they must be supported by new software tools, recently dubbed by analyst firm Gartner as the 'Learning Experience Platform’ (LEP).

As Gartner so succinctly puts it, anyone who wants their team to learn the new skills they need must “place the learner's experience and the solution's usability at the top of the priority list for any new learning project. Evaluate emerging LEPs to enhance (or extend) existing LMS platforms”. Basically, just as important as the content is the means to deliver it to learners. They won’t engage with content if it is complex to access. LEPs are focused on enhancing the learning experience and the content as well as the navigation that goes around it.

Introducing the LEP

There is undoubtedly a shift happening from an administrator centric approach to one of a learner centric approach. But if an organisation has an established LMS, how does an LEP differ and how does it ensure user engagement?

Gartner defines an LEP as an additional portal layer that expands (i.e., range of content) and enhances (i.e., personalisation) the learner's interaction. An LEP, on the other hand, provides “a better learner experience through improved personalisation via adaptive learning, recommendations and individual learning paths.” It includes both content-creation and off-the-shelf content.

Consumer-centric content

LEPs deliver a consumer-like experience. Firstly, learners recognise their way around from the applications they use on their own devices on a daily basis. Tailored training recommendations prepare their skill sets for individual roles they may take up in the future.

This directly connects e-learning requirements with a learners’ personal goals and experiences – and shows them how they are part of the wider organisational picture. LEPs can achieve this by embedding learning into the learner's daily activities or the applications on which learners spend the most time.

Employees today are looking at intuitive interfaces they recognise that fit seamlessly into the workflow. They expect a Netflix-like experience in their e-learning solution, for example. Traditional e-Learning just can’t deliver on these expectations.

Increasing learner engagement

This all sounds fine in theory, but the big question is what will it actually look like? It is actually very logical. It appears as a part of employees’ day-to-day actions.  Many, for example, will fill down time searching content on their smartphones, checking Facebook etc. They will get the same ‘look and feel’ from their learning experience.

Organisations need to get the learning experience back to the top of the list. They need to re-think training as a very similar experience to the ones employees look for in their own apps – content that is diverse, interesting and very easily accessible. Mobile, always on, always available, delivered in engaging, bite-sized chunks that are engaging and fill gaps in knowledge where they exist. And where appropriate, utilise engagement techniques like gamification, online competitions and quizzes between learners. Both designed to end the isolated e-learning experiences that lead to users dropping off e-Learning courses.

To re-establish its role, e-learning needs to augment its existing LMS and other training support with the best-in-class customised LEP approach that supports a powerful, flexible learning culture. This means truly involving the learner and personalising the process as part of an adaptive learning strategy, instead of opting for a one-size-fits-all model that has been shown to fail on so many occasions.

The business e-learning training environment hasn’t been working for a long time, but many have opted to bury their head in the sand and ignore it. To win back learner engagement, organisations need to act now and deliver what learners want and need in a way they want it delivered. In the digital economy and faced with a growing war on talent, organisations who let up-skilling their staff fall by the wayside because they haven’t re-visited e-learning requirements will find themselves in a perilous position going forward.

Jean-Marc Tassetto, co-founder, Coorpacademy
Image Credit: James F Clay / Flickr