The reason you fail E-learning

Some months ago I translated my article on training methods for my collegues in Finland and I just realized that I should share it here on my blog as well as the topic is more relevant than ever... 

Education is always needed, but should preferably not cost anything and carried out by happy employees outside normal working hours. E-learning seems to be an optimal solution, but the vast majority lose the battle of finishing an entire e-course.

At this moment, you might be ready to explode, eager to write an angry comment about how you indeed performed X number of e-courses and how well it went. Congratulations, then you belong to the approximately 5 percent who have enough self-discipline (and perhaps the lack of social life), being able to focus enough to both implement and manage e-learning based tutorials. This article is aimed primarily at rest about 95 percent, and perhaps even more important, your managers. We will look at a number of online course options and above all how to optimize learning and provide maximum return on investment skills by mixing them with educational optimal classroom training. I base my statements on this experience from my many years in the education industry, combined with the best practices from my wife (who has worked as a teacher for more than a decade) and other sources that are quoted in the article.

Method 1: E-learning - no more, no less…

The term e-learning was coined in 1998, and the phenomenon has of course been greatly improved since the first tentative attempts. In the IT world, it is often quite natural to seek fast answers to problems you encounter. Search engines such as Google or Bing and movie sites like YouTube have for a long time been the preferred tool where enterprising engineers and developers quickly (on their own) find their way to a large amount of forums and movies where someone else has already found a solution to the particular problem that you encountered. Complementary, we also have forums such as Swedish which for a long time has focused on IT-pros sharing their experience with their peer. When you have a clearly defined problem these options are very good choices where you usually find a quick solution.

Some companies are investing in developing customized e-learning. Specialized companies adds a hefty budget to produce video lectures, games, and interactive solutions in an often simple and educational guide to learn new skills. The digital courses are often seen in the introductory levels and roles of the movie or the game can be reused again and again, thus providing an affordable cost per participant. The last two-three years, has shown a dramatic rise in e-learning options for IT professionals as for example Plural Sight (license based), and Microsoft Virtual Academy (free) which user base has grown increasingly. Here you'll find courses in most areas of technology, and cost wise it's a fraction of what an instructor-led training costs.

The cost per person is often the main criteria which many managements hung up on, and when training preferably should be entirely free, e-learning is often as close to the match as you can get (at least if the company does not need to count your leisure on the cost account). If we look at the North American market, it’s said that almost 75 percent of all businesses use digital education, and even here in Sweden this percentage grow each year.

Method 2: Classroom Training

At the other end of the scale (compared with pure e-learning) we find companies who for several years has focused on classroom training for IT professionals and developers. In the current situation, many Enterprise companies has rather generous frame work agreements with for example us at Informator.

Pedagogically speaking, it is difficult to compete with the knowledge your get by spending several days with a leading expert in the field, who not only goes through the general news in a particular technology speaking, but also can provide direct feedback on the special details that you might experience in your own IT environment. This, combined with the ability to sit down and discuss with others in the same situation, is something that in most cases is completely lacking when it comes to e-learning. Cost-wise, classroom training might be a larger investment both course wise but often counting the actual cost of the course participant being absent from work for several, either if you work as a consultant away from assignments or have a permanent position in which the employer may need to call a substitute.

In many cases it is still the superior educational model that makes the difference when someone chose a classroom course - they simply know from experience that it means less actual time to absorb the new knowledge combined with the fact that it usually stays longer. Speaking for my own company, we also have strong educational and technical requirements on our trainers and a detailed follow up to ensure customer satisfaction and opportunities to make improvements in our classes. Maybe this is something that our general schools could emulate in terms of recent PISA assessments.

Method 3: Blended Learning

You may belong to the small group of people who actually have self-discipline enough to really dedicate time to manage a number of e-learning courses, but why settle for that? There is a reason that the elementary school does not consist solely of courses run through the computer, and it is simply that you cannot fully compete with the ability to have an expert on site.

At the same time, we notice that in the primary, secondary and higher education, more and more schools are starting to take advantage of all the knowledge that is already available on the Internet. It’s only natural that training for IT professionals go this route, and there is much discussion about the possibilities of combining classroom education with self-study online, and discussion forums where students exchange experiences and support each other. At the moment we’re working hard on finding the very best technical solution and within soon we are ready to start stage two in professional IT-training!

There are several advantages of combining or “blending” various opportunities to absorb new knowledge. You get live access to a pedagogically trained expert who have the experience to help students in the very best way to absorb new knowledge. You get practical tips on where you can find more to read when it suits you best. At the same time, you have someone who push and helps you to really set aside time to study, a positive pressure that can often be the very thing that makes sure you take the time to study instead of anything else that demands your attention at leisure. 

If you for example set up a training program in cooperation with us at Informator, maybe we can even look at a platform where the class together can dig further in certain subjects. This mixed method leads to a positive pressure which encourage repetition and helps the student to grow within the selected topic! It's a quick way into the new subject, and the new knowledge does last longer.
Why you can’t handle pure E-learning without support

It is said that there are statistics that can underline virtually all claims, and of course, there have been countless inquiries about what kind of training that is the optimal approach. Probably most of you agree with the reasoning that it simply is so much else to add at leisure than just studying (unless you happen to be currently studying full-time and do not have time for anything else). And no matter how committed you are to your job, we all need a break sometime to not end up in the emergency department with suspected myocardial infarction. 

So as a bit of extra support for your next performance review, here are some preventative statistics proving it frankly is a wasted investment to bet on only e-learning:

1. Schools Inspectorate large secondary survey on self-study, 2013:
We begin lightly with a general survey of self-study - it is not only in e-learning, but here we focus on just the human psyche in general. The biggest problems (in Schools Inspectorate) are unawareness of the goal of training, generic training programs that are not adapted to the individual and lack of financial aid. I can quite easily draw direct parallels here for an e-course, can you?

2. University of Gothenburg - "Experiences with mixed forms of training at vocational skills development":
This is a bachelor's degree in human science that even more clearly describes the difficulties surrounding this mode of learning. The interviewee audience in the essay can be found at the Volvo Cars Corporation. One of the findings is as follows:
"Aspects that were considered to hinder the learning was that the different design was ridiculed, that priority tasks, lack of reality and lack of practical exercises to the extent desired by the participants."
This probably seem familiar to many who have tried to implement generic e-learning courses. And it obviously affected the ability and willingness to complete similar self-study in the absence of support from both pedagogical direction and management.

3. Durham University - "Effects of traditional, blended and e-learning on student achievement in higher education": 
We round off with an article where Steve Higgins from Durham University in the UK lists several points, with references to studies showing that e-learning clearly requires jacking to reach the optimal learning rate:
“In e-learning, students can suffer from isolation and lack of direct social interaction, therefore, is a great responsibility on the student to have strong motivation and competence in planning to mitigate this effect” (Hameed, Badii & Cullen, 2008).
“E-learning can have a negative impact on the development of communication skills. In other words, even though a student may have acquired excellent academic knowledge he/she is sometimes lacking the skills to communicate this to others” (Akoyunlu & Soylu 2006; Klein & Ware 2003).
“E-learning can be less effective than classroom learning in aspects of the learning process such as clarification and extended learning as they can be easier to absorb in one training with classmates. In addition, e-learning lack the support that non-verbal guidance provide by observing the interaction between the second” (Al-Musa & Al-Mobark, 2005).


Of course there are also a lot of positive qualities in e-learning, and as stated earlier, you should of course take advantage of this medium. The main thing to take with you when it comes to skills upgrading is that it is always worth spending a little extra, whether it is financial investment or time and personal commitment. In the IT field, we all know how much it costs to invest in new technology, licenses etc., and it should also be a given that those who actually will be using the technology can do this in the best possible way. Technology will never be better than the person using it, and if that person just got a manual plus a link to a free site somewhere on the Internet, it is likely to take an unnecessarily long time before the company can take full advantage of its investment. If you are among the few that can really put everything else aside and totally focus on your e-learning course, you have a good reason to choose the form of education. But I would still recommend to combine e-learning with classroom studies or lectures and of course interactivity in forums or groupstudies. Without interactivity, you lose a part of the learning process, no matter how focused you are.

This article is authored by Tobias Strandh and was first introduced in the Swedish newspaper TechWorld # 5 - in September 2014
Extended reading:


Time Efficient alternatives becomes interesting because staff time away from the workplace both costs money and leads to lagging tasks. We listen to our customers and the industry's need for time-efficient training programs. Therefore, we have developed forms of delivery and solutions that tackles the challenge of time and at the same time support your professional development .

This is what we at Informator call Time-to-Skills™




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