Successful e-learning has little to do with the technology and everything to do with the people.
Everything stable where you work? No market blips? No surprises? Of course not. Our world of technology is ever-changing and challenging. And technology training is not insulated from the race. Executives look to training events to give their company the edge, to get new hires enabled faster, and to increase sales' successes.
How has your training department responded to the challenge? I'll guess that you have more aggressive goals and are considering using e-learning to help you achieve them. After all, the technology is accessible, even affordable. Should be easy, right? Wrong.
Companies everywhere are finding that successful e-learning has little to do with the technology and everything to do with the people.
This was clear at TechLearn 2000, a unique conference I attended recently put on by the Masie Center, where learning and sharing was front and center among the several thousand e-learning professionals on hand. In that spirit, attendees were invited to wear buttons such as: “Let's Talk Strategy,” “Starting,” “Trainer,” and (my personal favorite) “Confused?!” Most participants wore the buttons in the hopes of finding kindred spirits and resources.
When I describe the differences between in-person training and online learning to my clients, I use my cast and crew analogy: It's the difference between producing a hit Broadway show and producing an award-winning movie. The expertise needed to make each a success varies: writers, talent, backgrounds, sound effects, and venues, not to mention the distribution channels, promotion, marketing budgets, and technologies.
How do you and your team make the e-leap? Here are three keys to the process.
Value, Don't Trivialize, the Difference. Ask, “Who's new around here?” If the answer is “no one,” your success may be limited. Not because of a lack of talent but because you are working in a whole new medium. For example, if your work includes (as mine does) streaming video and Flash animation over the Internet, you'll need video post-production and graphics expertise. If you are automating an existing workshop, you may need a writer who specializes in online effectiveness. If you are embracing a new e-learning environment, you may need a programmer who is fluent in those authoring tools and standards.
Transition Your Team. Give your team time to learn and evolve. It may take a couple programs for trainers, who are used to working intensely for a few days or a week, to adjust to a two- to three-month coaching schedule. Your content and presentation developers will no longer be able to rely on the trainer's delivery to add spark, so the e-course scripts must be the content and the trainer combined. Your curriculum and program managers may have to adjust their methods from in-person only to a hybrid of two or three methods to ensure and reinforce retention.
Put One Person in Charge. Online learning courses are complicated puzzles to create, fine tune, and implement. Most companies get stuck because no one person knows the big picture and can keep the disparate elements moving toward a common goal. My teams usually include a dozen experts working on various parts of an online training project. Unless one person has the whole picture, it is virtually impossible to finish on time and on budget.
New things often require new approaches. That's a fact of life. So when it comes to the success of your e-learning courses, don't go it alone. Bring your team and a new face or two with you into the future. One carefully selected talent can leverage your efforts immeasurably. And don't forget to wear your “Work in Progress” button. You'll meet the nicest people.
Janette Racicot is president of Racicot & Associates, which specializes in helping companies improve their high-visibility, in-person, and online training events. Call her at (617) 484-3201, or send mail to firstname.lastname@example.org.