In the L&D world, e-learning today can sometimes be seen as the poor cousin to instructor-led training. It’s mostly because when we think about e-learning we think about the boring compliance courses we’re expected to complete to protect against organisational risk. Very rarely does that form of learning solution serve the purpose it’s intended for.

In the 1990s and early 2000s, e-learning was a way to scale the classroom experience, so it was spoken of in terms of reach and value but rarely its ability to truly enhance the way that work is done. At the turn of the century, the capability to develop and create more engaging forms of e-learning started to come through, and vendors became better at providing courseware that was at least more visually appealing.

By the end of the 2000s, web-search and constant connectivity had given the world’s information to every employee, whenever and wherever they needed it, and e-learning seemed like a facile distraction rather than a critical performance enabler. We’ve now evolved our thinking and understanding of e-learning to a point that just putting learners through an e-course doesn’t improve performance in the main, it just ticks a box for the compliance manager to feel positive about. But still, e-learning is consistently rated as one of the least valuable ways to learn in the workplace.

We’ve also evolved our understanding of the language we use when it comes to e-learning and how unhelpful it is for organisations to think of it in terms of features and formats and whether or not it is SCORM compliant or enables xAPI. These just aren’t useful terminologies for L&D managers and leaders when talking with their businesses about actual performance gaps and real capability issues.

What Should We Be Expecting of E-Learning Today?

E-Learning today should be directly affecting individual productivity and organisational capability. It shouldn’t be about providing content for understanding basic concepts. We should all expect more of the potential of digital to enhance individual and organisational performance. For example, did the e-learning on ‘right to work checks in the U.K.’ help the team identify more cases of individuals whose identification wasn’t as required, or did 100% of the team pass the assessment? Think of it another way, when people search YouTube or Google for how to do something, they don’t type in “e-learning for avoiding organisational risk”, they type in things like “is there a template for capturing user information” or “what does safeguarding mean when working with young people”. They want to know how to do things, not some academic or anecdotal version of the answer.

Add to that, the gamification of e-learning and other attempts to make it more fun, which doesn’t help us to achieve organisational objectives either. These simply seek to enhance the L&D metrics, of completion and assessment, over the business metrics, which are better results from more competent and confident employees. Leading thinkers in this space help us understand that gamification in learning doesn’t work and making it ‘fun’ may even be counterproductive. (We’re not against fun, by the way, we’re just clear that for e-learning it doesn’t achieve an outcome as is often advocated.)

Modern learning is about using available tools to provide workers with the answers they’re looking for without making it cumbersome for them. Using modern digital tools to package local know-how into usable resources is proving to be the most effective use of technology in achieving individual performance and development goals and shaping the capability requirements across entire organisations. When people access the answers and guidance to help them perform, that’s when you know it’s the right solution.

As learning professionals we need to expect more from e-learning solutions. The world’s content problem has already been solved by Google. You don’t need to know how to search the entire World Wide Web to get the answers you need, you just need to know how to use Google to search for the right question. Yet organisationally, we still think that equipping employees means making them sit through e-learning, and we don’t focus on the tools and guidance to do the job until a team member asks a question like “how do I use this internal system?”.

Making E-Learning Work

The problem of how to equip workers with the tools, guidance, resources and confidence to perform in their roles is one that many organisations are trying to crack. It’s a good challenge and one where L&D can really step up to deliver better thinking and solutions that go beyond seeing traditional e-learning as the solution, and, instead, employing ‘digital resources’ as performance enablers. We need to assess the business need more clearly and develop solutions that impact on business results and not introduce them for their novelty or entertainment value.

If you’re not helping to solve your workers’ performance problems and your organisation’s capability problems with digital technology, then you need to increase your expectations of what learning technology can do for your company.

Ben Muzzell is CEO of Looop and works with clients, such as Sky, ASOS, HarperCollins and Radisson Edwardian Hotels, on their digital learning transformations.

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