A plethora of benefits makes this tool an effective way to train. Consider technology, environment and content when developing programs.
Consider conventional classroom learning: it requires two skill sets on the part of the program designer. The first is an expertise in knowing how adults learn. Closely behind and nearly as important is subject matter expertise.
Effective training professionals are very sensitive to the fact that usually they are not the subject matter experts (SMEs), unless they are designing a course on training. If they talk about soft-skills training, let that be a warning that they consider themselves qualified in all but technical areas where the inability to fake it is obvious. There is no training for what is considered soft skill.
Training professionals always see that the real value they add to any initiative is their ability to find seasoned employees—on the job, day after day—effectively performing the activities comprising the elements of the training program and that they include this expertise to provide good solid content. These training professionals also see that the program they design will be effectively delivered due to the value added by the training professional in the design phase. This ensures that the participants, the organization, the SME, and the training pro all achieve their goals.
First, the trainees benefit because they get great training from someone who can answer all their questions on the topic. Second, the SME-facilitator benefits because he gets to build on an already terrific skill base. The third and fourth beneficiaries, namely the training professional and the organization, also are winners because employees gain practical, real-world knowledge.
Now on to other elements required in any e-learning training situation: technology and (for lack of a better word) the mechanics. Just as in a classroom, e-learning requires that the person responsible for drafting the curriculum have different expertise. In fact, there may be two separate resources for the technology process and the mechanics. Let me explain.
The mechanics is the environment in which the training will take place. This should include consideration for the policies and procedures that balance security and risk with the demands and requirements of the workplace.
Technology requirements may be a bit more problematic but needn’t be. Technology is required since that is the essence of e-learning. Before e-learning, it was called correspondence or individualized instruction. Today, when I facilitate an e-learning program, I occasionally find students who consider e-learning just another correspondence course. E-learning should be so much more.
At its best it should link state-of-the-art technology with the best of Socratic questioning to develop a classroom setting in which each participant is constantly engaged in the never-ending learning process (no breaks, no holidays, just a 24/7, nonstop opportunity from day one to course conclusion.). This could replace the books, pencils, paper, chalkboard, and classroom while being more effective to boot.
The key is to know the limits of one’s professional and technical expertise (and, just as finding the right SME enhances the marketing of any program, the same should be said for the IT pro.) Practicality is the key here. Thanks to the sophistication and power of even the simplest (and cheapest) IT systems, making do with what is available is preferable to asking for big bucks. I recently took a course with a brilliant instructional designer who claimed that one of the most successful training programs she had ever designed used Microsoft Outlook because her client did not want to spend anything for additional technology for its e-learning programs.
The conclusion: Whether your organization has already ventured into e-learning or not, give it a shot. Keep it simple and just make sure you have the resources you need to pull it off quickly and effectively. It would be a mistake to avoid it.