Hybrid approach to learning

WHEN anything is listed as the cure for everything, we should beware. Such is the case with e-learning, as we get snowed under by the amount of information on the success of e-learning as the panacea for all training. This is especially true for areas of training that require the development of management, leadership or other relationship building or interpersonal skills.

Programs that offer to develop your skills in conflict resolution, for example, via an exclusively online process should be seen in perspective. The online medium can be excellent at imparting knowledge and testing the short-term acquisition of that knowledge.

However, this pedagogy fails when it comes to true skill development. It is hard to imagine an interaction with a computer terminal replacing the face-to-face reality of a real conflict or even a conflict situation in role-play. We may learn what to do, but can we actually do it?

As one Stanford University professor is quoted as saying: “Learning is a social process. E-learning ignores this fact and therefore it will never work with the kind of learning and training we deliver.”

However, all is not lost in the e-learning arena. Many programs have been developed that combine the best of the e-learning and instructor-led delivery approaches.

Known as ‘blended learning’, the development process involves placing the knowledge components on the e-learning platform and delivering the skill development via more traditional classroom or experientially based settings. The online forum can also deliver case studies, pre-tests, pre-reading, questionnaires and, at the conclusion of the program, can offer useful follow-up processes, further reading and final assessment.

The advantages of a blended approach over traditional instructor-led training include a reduced time attending face-to-face training, opportunities for pre-work and review, and self-paced activity rather than working at the pace of the group.

One myth about e-learning though is that it is cheaper than face-to-face learning. Generic, packaged program content is relatively cheap, but is largely ineffective if it cannot accommodate the unique needs of each participant.

Some programs can be primarily knowledge-based and will therefore be almost exclusively online. Most other programs can offer a blended approach that will enable participants to reduce the total amount of time away from the workplace.

Online learning does have great potential and its usefulness will grow with the advances in technology that allow greater quantities of data to be transported.

However, it is important to keep a focus on the learner and the real outcomes that are desired. Like any investment in training, online or face-to-face, if it does work, it’s expensive.

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