Pros and Cons of E-Learning

Roberta Chinsky Matuson

Pros and Cons of E-Learning
By Roberta Chinsky Matuson

Technology has changed everything in the workplace,

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including the way we train employees. It seems it was only yesterday that forward-thinking companies were setting up computers in their training rooms to give employees hands-on experience before sending them out to the front lines. Companies would think nothing of bringing employees from all over the country to centralized training centers.

Flash forward a few years and we now deliver training right to our employees' workstations and/or homes. At first glance, the idea of delivering training to your employees seems flawless. But e-learning may not be right for every employee, every company and every situation. Before you rush to install an e-learning platform and sign up whole departments for training, consider the pros and cons of this training modality in your work environment.

E-learning is available 24/7.

Learning around the clock. Access to e-learning 24/7 gives your employees the opportunity to fit training into their schedules, which can be a big plus for self-motivated, disciplined people. These employees will take full advantage of this resource spread before them.

"For a thousand years, people have learned the same way. Classes have been scheduled at specific times, with an active instructor standing in front of a passive class. Everyone was expected to absorb material in the same way and at the same pace. E-learning allows people to learn when they want, and at their own pace. They make decisions about how a class should be structured and when they should do the coursework. For instance, if you're sharpest at 4 a.m., you can do the work at that time, rather than sleeping through an evening course," comments Kevin Oakes, president of click2learn, the second largest e-learning company in the world.

Of course, less motivated employees will have difficulty dealing with the lack of structure in a self-paced e-learning program. Deal with that issue by scheduling time off for your employees so they can complete the assigned module. Also consider setting up an area that's quiet and conducive to learning, so workers can focus on their coursework.

E-learning allows you to measure results

Many e-learning companies and platforms now offer work performance tools as part of courses, allowing you to gauge individual and organizational performance before and after the course. Thus, you have a quantitative measure to determine the effectiveness of course material.

"We?re putting more and more work performance tools into our courses. It's proving such a benefit to organizations to be able to accurately determine just how much employees have learned and how performance has been impacted across the board," comments Oakes.

Some employees will be reluctant to expose themselves to performance evaluations, fearing negative repercussions if they fail to show improvement. Assure them that you are only evaluating the efficacy of the e-learning product, not their on-the-job performance.

E-learning allows you to plan training on-demand.

No more waiting for the company to fly in an instructor or coordinating schedules so your whole team can be away from the office. That means you keep your staff up to date, responding to new trends almost as quickly as they hit your industry.

Individual, on-demand training can eliminate interaction between fellow students and students and instructors. The loss of this interaction, which always enriches coursework, can be a problem. Seek courses that include either synchronous or asynchronous interaction between fellow students and students and instructors or build in that interaction by integrating e-learning with some instructor-led sessions.

E-learning is cost-effective.

Of course, the biggest--and probably most obvious--savings in choosing e-learning over classroom-based training is the elimination of travel costs. But there are other, less obvious savings.

"Statistics show that e-learning cuts a traditional, instructor-led course in half. All those pleasantries in the classroom setting are eliminated. That means saving both in the cost of the course and employees time away from work," explains Oakes.

Remember that the cost to install an e-learning platform across your network could prove significant. Before you make an investment, be sure a particular platform or approach is right for you. Off-the-shelf products and Web-based services like click2learn are cost-effective alternatives.

It's not an all or nothing proposition
It's no secret that people learn differently. One of the great benefits of e-learning is that it makes room for those differences.

"Adults learn in very different, individual ways. The great thing about e-learning is that it allows people to learn in any way they choose, focusing on their own strengths and weaknesses," asserts Oakes.

Of course, there are some courses that may not be perfectly suited to an e-learning approach. Think twice, for instance, about using e-learning to train one of your mechanics to do a tune-up. (Note of interest: Some e-learning companies--one of these is techonline--now offer 3-D, virtual training courses that are the next thing to a hands-on experience. A course might, for example, allow a student to virtually disassemble and reassemble a circuit board. Experts say these programs will prove particularly helpful in familiarizing technical personnel with specific products.)

Using e-learning in combination with facilitated training still seems to be the optimum for many companies. It's up to you to determine the right recipe (Is it three parts e-learning to one part classroom training?) for your organization.

Roberta Chinsky Matuson is an expert in human resources and principal of HR Solutions in Northampton, Mass. She is the HR expert at and a frequent contributor to

Copyright 2001, Reprinted by permission.


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