E-learningby Geoff Allan
Advantages and disadvantages of e-learning
Whether you choose e-learning as the best option in your circumstances ultimately depends on what you want to learn and when you want to learn it. Let’s imagine that you have a presentation to make to an important client. It’s over a year since you last made any sort of presentation, so you feel you need to update your PowerPoint skills. The next in-house course is several months away and, when you contact the various training providers, you discover that the soonest you can get a course is the beginning of next month. But that’s too late. As it happens, you find exactly what you need on the internet and so you spend 25 minutes getting some pointers for your task.
So let’s look at some of the advantages of good e-learning.
The most obvious advantage of an e-learning package is that it can provide learning whenever you need it, wherever you need it; it’s very much a just-in-time approach. It’s usually available in short modules – bite-sized pieces of learning that you can fit into your working day more easily than attending a course or workshop. All you need are the necessary computer facilities and, let’s face it, most people now have access to computers at work. So instead of having to wait for a suitable course to be run, either internally or externally, you can get the training when you want it. And, if necessary, an individual can use the same package again and again.
- Large numbers of people can use it at the same time
Just imagine changing a critical procedure in your organisation. Previously, you’d have to organise a number of courses closely together, with the ensuing disruption and inconvenience, and the more employees you have, the greater the problems. With e-learning, you could have everyone using the course on the same day, wherever they are in the organisation, or even if they’re at home, and regardless of numbers.
- Consistency and uniformity of delivery is important
You can probably recall training sessions where the trainer seemed inspired and certainly inspired those on the course with you. And you can probably also remember some tedious and dull events. With e-learning, every session will be consistent.
- Individuality and control
Each session can also be personal in a way that is not possible in groups. You can move at your own pace, check your progress, repeat sections or ignore those you already know. You are in control of your own learning.
- Cost reductions are possible
Once you have an e-learning package, it can be used as often as you like for no extra cost. Alternatively, you may be able to access a course online at a cost that will generally be much less than an equivalent conventional course.
- Reduced training delivery time
Because e-learning packages adapt to the individual learner, there is a considerable reduction in the time needed to complete a course. Conventional courses are geared to the needs of the group as a whole; rarely does any single person need everything offered to the group. And, of course, the time wasted in travelling to the course is eliminated.
- Keeping track of learning
If a learning Management System (LMS) is used, then you will have the ability to keep track of the learning of each person in the organisation, automatically.
The most obvious disadvantages concern how e-learning is used within an organisation, and its availability.
- An appropriate e-learning package may not be available
That leaves you the choice of commissioning a custom-built package, or reverting to conventional training. For example, a wide choice of IT training courses is available, but there is very much less on the market when it comes to training in interpersonal skills.
- Lack of support
Learning has a social dimension: people learn by discussions with others, by being encouraged to reflect on what they are learning, and by having help in integrating their new knowledge and skills into their day-to-day work. There is also considerable variation in topics and people. Some topics are relatively easily learnt in isolation while others demand group involvement, and some people are able better able to learn on their own than others. All this implies a need for support; if the appropriate support is not available, then e-learning will not produce the results expected (see What support might be needed?).
- Modular structure
Most e-learning courses are built around the concept of modules which you go through from beginning to end. This often makes it difficult if all you want is one specific piece of information that is somewhere in the middle of the module. This in turn means that most e-learning courses are not really that useful as a reference resource because for reference, you need the ability to browse and search the contents. Alchemy for Managers is an example of an e-reference resource and the user interface is thus very different from what you would find in an e-learning course.