eLearning – A Panacea for Adult Learning Needs?

In many ways, technology advances in the training field have revolutionized the methodology of creating, presenting and evaluating training and development programs. Online learning offers many benefits to both employers and employees, considering factors such as cost, time, convenience, accessibility, and subject matter variety, and enables both a simple delivery system coupled with unfettered geographic boundaries. Leveraging this technology has facilitated organizations abilities to provide new or, expand existing programs and still operate within ever-shrinking budgetary limits.

With global downsizing becoming more of a business practice than a passing fad, and the need to create lean organizations and retain competitive advantage, organizations are consistently looking for areas of promoting efficiency and reducing costs.

While the argument can always be made that cutting training as a cost saving is a bad long-term strategy, the reality still exists that training is usually one of the first “overhead” items to fall under the budgetary axe in many companies.

eLearning can significantly reduce these costs, and while not the total solution to training needs, it can create an affordable and effective alternative to more complex and costly programs.

From the time perspective, eLearning has created a flexibility paradigm that many other training approaches cannot parallel. In a business world of reduced staff and time management concerns, employees can now utilize non-work time to complete their training needs, as well as pursue developmental learning outside the normal work hours and environment.

Many programs are available on a 24/7 timeframe, which allows employees to access online learning during non-work hours, even those on alternate shifts.

Training convenience impacts employee availability, whether the training is conducted during work hours, or personal time. With the increasing demands placed on employees and the need for a more effective work/life balance, scheduling training that is convenient to employers, departments, managers and staff frequently fails in gaining a collective agreement of convenience.

Here again, eLearning activities can be utilized to meet the individual, rather than just the collective need, especially where the training can be asynchronous and therefore flexible for individual participation requirements. Likewise, convenience links with accessibility, offering equal opportunities to all workers whether they are local, national, or global, with access to training on computers, tablets and smart phones.

One of the distinct advantages of eLearning is the availability to almost unlimited subject matter. Programs can be customized and designed in-house or can be outsourced to providers who specialize in designing programs and have the technical expertise and resources to create programs that meet individual organizational requirements.

Integrating eLearning with Knowledge Management systems provides an additional level of effectiveness, insuring that intellectual knowledge is captured, stored and utilized. Organizations will be able to develop learning catalogues that will offer employees an unprecedented variety and access to training, development and knowledge sharing that provide a wealth of information that meet both today’s needs and tomorrow’s challenges.

While offering distinct advantages over traditional learning mechanisms, eLearning is not the cure-all for all training and development needs, but rather provides another option in the learning toolbox that is used to address a variety of programs, audiences, venues and expected outcomes. eLearning presents its own challenges, considering that not all potential learners are computer savvy, or, may not have access to computers or internet connectivity.

This “digital divide” can be a serious disadvantage for employers who rely exclusively on eLearning mechanisms. Additionally, eLearning programs do not always align with adult learning principles and that presents its own distinct challenges. For example, many adults prefer classroom environments that allow the free exchange of ideas and afford an additional element of learning and comprehension. Also, most adults favor autonomy in both their work and their learning, and thus prefer flexibility and self-directed environments.

Andragogy studies show that adults rely on one or more senses as their preferred mode of learning, utilizing visual, auditory and kinesthetic processes. eLearning methods frequently fall short of these principles. There is no doubt that eLearning has revolutionized the field of training and development. Trainers need to recognize that despite its advantages, it is not a panacea and is best utilized in an assortment of blended learning techniques that provide more diverse effectiveness in meeting learning deliverables.

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