Very little is known about the neurological process of learning, but this much is clear: Personal mobile technologies have forever changed the way we consume and retain information. It's time for e-learning to catch up.
"E-learning is learning on Internet time, the convergence of learning and networks," wrote Jay Cross, who developed the first courses for the University of Phoenix and founded the Internet Time Group, when he coined the term "e-learning" back in 1998. "E-learning is to traditional training as e-business is to business as usual."
Cross's 20th-century account of online learning is so full of early dotcom e-speak that we'd hardly blame you for rolling your eyes and dismissing it outright as an irrelevant relic. Not so fast; this is important stuff.
Despite that fact that personal mobile technologies have forever changed the way we consume information in 2013, the proponents of e-learning have largely failed to adapt their methodologies.
"Putting content online and making it accessible outside a classroom was a fresh idea a decade ago," writes Axonify CEO Carol Leaman (@CarolLeaman) in the Wired article "E-Learning: It's Time for a Reboot." "But 10 years later, the reality of how we learn and how other media have become integral to . . . our lives [has] exposed the fact that most e-learning solutions simply replicate the problems mass employee training has always faced: Content is boring. Attention spans are short. Employees forget more than they learn. Many don't even apply their learning to the job--either they're not motivated, or don't remember critical information."
Leaman's observations about technology's pull on human behavior resonate beyond corporate training and development. Marketers are surely nodding their heads in agreement, as is anyone who's ever fielded a customer-service inquiry, drafted an internal memo, or tried to break through the smartphone noise to reach an always-on audience.
How do we overhaul e-learning? Leaman schools us on six different points and offers specific suggestions for moving forward:
1. Our brains are really good at processing four or five bits of information at a time. "Break learning into smaller, bite-sized segments, and deliver them more frequently," she writes.
2. Repeat, remind, and then repeat some more. "Many studies [prove] that repeated questioning of core knowledge in short bursts is far more effective . . . than one-time, lengthy learning sessions."
3. You can't improve what you don't measure. "Measure knowledge, attitudes, and application more frequently. Measurement helps direct ongoing training, and allows the correlation to business performance (i.e., ROE or ROI)."
4. What's in it for me? "Personalize the learning, so that every employee learns what's needed for their job and then deliver training to specifically fill knowledge gaps."
5. Social is a science. "Incorporate elements of social networking, gamification, and recognition to the learning process. . . . These techniques are proving to increase employee engagement, driving learning and retention."
6. If it's not mobile, it's crap. "Allow employees to learn when it's convenient, where it's convenient, and [how] to access just-in-time learning while on the job."