‘Winning the self-managed learning war’ by Robin Hoyle, Training Journal, March 2010

Ben Crowley2 Blogs Leave a Comment

The author is clearly an advocate of e-learning and this article has to be judged in this context. What makes it better than most on this topic is that he acknowledges that much of the investment will not work unless there is attention to the way in which e-learning is positioned and sold. However there are still instances where he allows his enthusiasm to get in the way of objectivity and I will try to redress the balance in my comments.

One point we agree on is that e-learning is a lonely business and a key reason why this method often fails is because it is ‘self-learning’. However our solutions are different. He advocates the more resource intensive solution of a coach for each learner; I accept that this solution is desirable if it is possible but I would also encourage twos and threes to learn together, something which seems to happen all too infrequently. It concerns me that the widespread use of the term ‘self-learning’ seems to exclude this possibility.

The article places great emphasis on the need to communicate the benefits of e-learning to the user. The point is made that, though many trainers stress the benefits of face-to-face communication compared to e-learning, a similar argument can be made the other way round; more flexibility of timing, greater consistency of content, the ability to adjust to your own pace etc.

This seems sensible, though I not convinced that communication of benefits alone would make a big difference to the often disappointing levels of take-up that are typically found after e-learning launches. And some of the other advice provided – ask learners to set time aside in short chunks, tell them to enter time in the diary – comes across as patronising. I would have expected to see more emphasis on the benefits of e-learning as part of blended solutions rather than stand-alone, which seems a much more likely to improve take-up levels.

The article would also have been more balanced if the author had been more objective about e-learning’s limitations. There is a brief mention of the fact that it is most effective when knowledge acquisition and retention is the main goal, but nothing about the limitations when the objectives are skill development and application.

Advocates of e-learning would be far more credible if they also accepted the advantages of face-to-face sessions; the interactions between groups, the ability to ask and discuss questions on key issues, the greater flexibility to tailor material and change direction as necessary. This might encourage them to see that there is a middle ground – the development of interactive virtual classroom sessions – which gives you the best of both worlds without major investment. This virtual approach, together with the use of blended designs, is the direction in which MTP, driven by the needs of our international clients, is clearly heading.

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