How do I know what e-learning approach is right for what topic?

You might have set up a webinar program because … well, everyone else in your sector is doing their training that way. And because the corporate sector has been adopting a one-fit-for-all compliance training approach, chances are that you are too. The vast majority of online articles about e-learning are about compliance training or academic e-courses, so why would you do things differently?

That’s how we get a whole lot of mismatches in our sector. There are Articulate/Captivate/Lectora etc. modules abound about leadership skills and management. Another performance management module, anyone? Don’t get me wrong, we can design great training with Articulate and other similar software (and DynaMind has an excellent record of doing so), but it should only be used when appropriate.

When is that appropriate?

When we would like to achieve compliance (health and safety for example) or when people need to practice going through a set process (answering typical customer questions for example) or when learners need to practice using the right vocabulary (provided there is no need to go beyond concept mastery). Leadership and management skills hardly ever fit into these categories. Nor do a whole lot of other skills.

So let’s unpack this. Consider the online training you’re about to develop… what do you want to achieve and what approach would be best to do this?

You would like to achieve compliance…

Your training topic has right and wrong answers. There is only one right way of doing this thing and that’s true in any context. This is where a tool like Articulate is appropriate. Develop real-life mini-scenarios and let people go through the decision-making processes until they get it right.

You would like to achieve enhanced technical skills and application of processes…

This is where you might want to look at serious games for the skills that include lots of decision-making, where mistakes are very costly. Think hands-on simulation of neurosurgery or flight simulators. If the skills aren’t that complicated and a show-and-tell will do, develop a video.

You would like to raise awareness…

If you are looking at shifting mindsets and convincing people that your cause is worth fighting for, consider video. Those gender-awareness training modules with boring quizzes after introducing each concept? Get rid of them. Tell a few good stories instead. If real time is preferred by your target group and you are a guru/expert who is really good at convincing people, consider a webinar.

You would like to change behaviours…

Changing a behaviour means doing things differently. The focus is on ‘doing’, so this needs to be reflected in the type of training you design. Don’t just ‘talk about’ – that’s awareness. Behaviour change is complex because there are a whole range of factors that influence people’s attitudes – not just the few you can offer in a typical e-learning module. Changing behaviours comes with understanding, with conversations, and often with peer support. You will achieve that depth with a well-designed and facilitated eWorkshop. You may want to add a few webinars to the eWorkshop if that’s logistically possible and if the target group is keen. However, it’s likely that most of the AHA moments and real change will be achieved by giving time to people to think before they contribute, i.e. asynchronously.

You would like to improve problem-solving capacities…

We’re not talking about maths problems or technical problems with one right answer. This is about real-life complex problem-solving which is almost always done together with other people out there. People have different perspectives on how problems should be solved and why. Context matters, as well as participants’ own stories about what works and what doesn’t (they are adult professionals after all). We’re moving (far) away from instructivism to embrace constructivism instead – a collaborative problem-based eWorkshop supports this philosophy.

You would like to empower people to make a difference…

As I wrote in one of my past blog posts about e-learning to empower, we need to be careful that we don’t get stuck in a traditional training approach when our aim is to support people to make a difference in their organisations and communities. This is way beyond training how to do things or learning how some expert is doing things. Empowerment requires facilitation and collaboration, both key components of eWorkshops.

You would like to support participatory processes…

Participatory isn’t the same as ‘making sure people participate’, as explained in my article about participatory e-learning. It’s about providing the opportunity to people to be involved in deciding how something is done. This again requires facilitation and collaboration. The mere addition of a discussion forum isn’t enough – we need a much more strategic approach to enable participatory learning to happen. An eWorkshop gives us that platform.

You may have noticed that none of the e-learning approaches suggested is a ‘lecture + assignment + discussion forum’ model which is mainly used in the academic sector. This is because I haven’t seen any instances in professional development where that could be remotely useful. Let’s not forget that most of us work in very different sectors with very different needs. The approach should always be adapted to the learners’ needs and what the organisation would like to achieve.

4 myths on how to spice things up in online learning
Three essential components of participatory e-learning


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