Our lives are dominated by technology—we depend on cloud computing to synch information among all of our electronic devices; we can text, e-mail, and tweet almost simultaneously from our smart phones; we have access to information 24/7 through the Internet. It’s no wonder then that the technology that allows us to do all these things is also increasingly being applied to learning. More and more companies are turning to e-learning to provide training and professional development opportunities to their employees, thanks to its accessibility and adaptability.
As companies begin to grasp the importance of adopting professional development strategies for their employees, they begin to look for suitable solutions and best practices. E-learning is quickly coming to the forefront of those solutions. Technology has proven to be a great enabler for learning by granting wider access and facilitating continuing education throughout an organization. It provides an infrastructure through which companies can develop interactive and engaging platforms to deliver skill-building, training information.
However, like most new technology, e-learning still has its drawbacks. Wider access can also mean less control and potential technology issues. Here are some of the pros and cons of adopting e-learning for your company’s training and development needs.
- Access. Perhaps the most valuable benefit of e-learning is that it provides access to a wider audience. Through cloud computing and the Internet, companies can offer training tools to employees anytime, anywhere. This benefits large, multinational corporations with employees in every continent because now there’s a way to offer them all the same training, translated if necessary, and in their own time zones. Even if the company is in only one time zone, the benefit of access through e-learning can change the way employees are trained and the way employers manage their progress.
- Low cost. Another key advantage to e-learning—and one that finance departments everywhere can rejoice over—is its relative low cost. E-learning doesn’t require paying an instructor, companies don’t have to find and pay for a space to hold the training, and they don’t have to buy any new equipment or books. Any company can find the right e-learning solution to fit its budget, depending on its strategic goals and its employees’ needs. This is especially true for companies with hundreds or thousands of employees that need to learn the same skills or policies, as scalability greatly reduces the cost per person.
- Ease of use. Given how much the average person uses technology on a daily basis, and based on our familiarity with software applications, e-learning’s ease of use can be a big benefit. By choosing a user-friendly platform, companies can count on their employees being able to navigate their way around and learn how to use it quickly. Of course, not every e-learning platform is user-friendly and not every employee is tech-savvy, but generally organizations can reap the benefits of having a tech teaching tool that most employees will feel comfortable using.
- Tailoring. In terms of access, cost, function, and pretty much anything else you can think of, e-learning can be tailored to your business needs. Whether you need training for five employees or five thousand, e-learning tools can be customized to what works best for your company. They can also be tailored to your employees’ needs. If employees feel like they know certain topics very well, they can skim over them and waste less time. That way they can concentrate on the topics they need to really work on. Employees also get to learn at their own pace, which is advantageous, considering that most of them are balancing multiple tasks, workloads, and deadlines.
- One size doesn’t fit all. One of the main disadvantages of e-learning is that it doesn’t appeal to all learning styles. While most people appreciate the freedom and flexibility that e-learning provides, many prefer the traditional classroom method to learning on a computer. Some people might prefer to learn through a hands-on approach and may find e-learning a little too much like going through the motions, instead of applying the lessons to real-life scenarios.
- Isolation. Learning through the Internet on individual computers allows for wider access, but it can also easily lead to isolation. Learning face-to-face means employees can ask questions and have them answered right away, which is not the case with e-learning. Employees have the freedom to learn on their own time wherever they are, but this may leave them with a feeling of isolation and lack of support. The lack of a physical classroom and instructor can be frustrating and demotivating.
- Tech issues. Although most of us are comfortable navigating the Internet and the computer world, not everyone is as tech-savvy. These employees may find the concept and/or execution of e-learning difficult to grasp. Even if the e-learning software is user-friendly, the idea of using it may be daunting to some, especially employees who don’t have to use computers regularly on their jobs. Other potential tech issues can include a slow Internet connection, specific browser requirements, and poor device compatibility.
- Lack of control. Through e-learning, employers are giving control to the employees to learn in their own time and in their own way. Since employees can use e-learning tools at their own pace, there’s a risk some may fall behind or just go through the material without really paying attention. This lack of control over the learning process can lead some to be weary of using e-learning for training purposes.
When strategically and properly implemented, e-learning has the potential to change the game for any company’s employee training. Have you adopted any e-learning tools for skill training and professional development? What have been the benefits and disadvantages to your business?
Tailoring is the most important advantage of e-learning. Employees have different knowledge needs and the possibility to tailor the trainings according to their needs is something that will benefit productivity in your company. Retaining employees becomes harder and harder for managers and HR departments and giving your employees the possibility of improving their specific skills or knowledge gaps will make them motivated and more engaged in their work.
Due to my experience in this field I have noticed that motivation can be a problem. It’s essential to make e-learning process as engaging and interactive as possible. This is how employees will not encounter issues with motivation and delay in learning.
A few months ago my company implemented an e-learning training about some specific programs that we use. After a short period of time we had a test evaluating our competencies in these programs and the results were unsatisfactory. Managers discovered that some employees couldn’t properly access the courses because of some technology problems. Well, when a company offers e-learning trainings it has to make sure that all of the employees have the technology required to access and complete the training. In my opinion, a company should first identify the technology that employees have access to and create a structure of e-learning trainings that has this technology in mind. By not being able to properly access and use the content, employees had encountered barriers between them and the information that should have been delivered to them. So, this is an issue that reduces the effectiveness of the training and makes company lose money and time.
When a company chooses an e-learning course it has to be aware that it doesn’t appeal to all employees learning style, so some employees may not enjoy the experience. I see as a challenge to make e-learning appeal to all employees because different people learn better or worse using different styles. People are productive using different specific ways of learning: some may be visual learners /auditory learners / kinesthetic learners or a combination of these three but in different proportions. In fact, this perspective can be applied for all kind of courses. This is why my advice is to customize learning up to the employee style. This can cost more but it will have a higher efficiency.