When e-learning isn’t right

Online learning isn't suitable for all organisations. The Department of Conservation says training is a crucial area and it considered online training for desktop applications, but decided against it.

Online learning isn’t suitable for all organisations. The Department of Conservation says training is a crucial area and it considered online training for desktop applications but decided against it.

IT chief Channa Jaysasinha says technical issues are part of the reason. DOC has an NT and a Citrix environment, and some components of the training package – graphics and video - wouldn't work that well across Citrix.

“If you’re working off a central server all your transactions are coming across a network pipe. If you’re then pushing video clips they’re also fighting for that same piece of wire, and if you have six or seven people doing it at the same time then no one else could access it to do any work.”

Another reason was that it did not culturally fit DOC. Jaysasinha says although the online training he evaluated was quite detailed and thorough, people would have had to work in a different way.

“A majority of our staff actually work in the field; they’re not sitting in front of a PC. They may come in to use the PC to access their email, check what the latest news on the intranet is or do some financial transactions or access the database etc. But they’re not sitting in front of a PC for eight hours a day. So it’s very hard to get them to do that online training … Face-to-face interaction [for training] seems to work a lot better with the culture of the organisation.”

DOC instead opted for classroom-based training with “handholders” – staff from Computerland who spent time at DOC for a few days to help push what staff had learned in class. It has also employed two in-house trainers.

DOC is now planning the project to upgrade to XP and Office XP and will use its in-house trainers as well as some other contractors. It will probably mean half a day of training, held at 15 different sites involving 1500 staff members.

With Office XP, Microsoft is rolling out an online training package and Jaysinha says DOC will point staff to that on its intranet, as a refresher.

“We won’t use that as the primary tool, though. You go to a particular topic within the application and just work on that. You don’t have to go through the whole course.”

Jaysinha says staff find classroom interaction very helpful. “They can raise their own unique problems and issues so it’s not like sitting in front of a computer and looking at a structured package where you can’t really interact. You just follow the instructions on the screen and at the end there might be a test that you might check some boxes in, but that unique, customised training doesn’t happen.”

Of course, those in the thick of e-learning say there are now very few types of training that e-learning isn’t a good vehicle for.

Oracle New Zealand national education manager Doug Berquist says technology is providing more offerings – such as chat sessions -- that make it suitable for just about anything.

“There was a time when [with] experiential learning -- the type where people need to explore their own thoughts, opinions, backgrounds -- you might have thought as being better live or with a facilitator close by to mediate them." He agrees this may still be the best way to handle such learning, "but with the interactivity of the internet, even courses like that are becoming more possible."

Part of the limitation is a generational issue, Berquist says. Younger people are already more comfortable with an e-learning methodologies. He says the good thing about classroom instruction is that it has a discipline to it: “You go and registered for a course – you were expected to show up on the course and that had an encouraging factor all of its own. Some people still need some of that discipline. But there are e-learning systems now that can schedule people on courses and follow on to make sure people were on the course so that discipline can be brought in, in a different way.”

Accenture partner Brenda La Port agrees likens top online training to a pilot's flight simulator training.

“What we’ve seen emerge over the last 12 months is performance simulation software and that's a combination of video, case study and software that is like a flight simulator. With that type of emerging technology, we’re getting to the point where there’s not much out there that you couldn’t put within an e-environment.”

Even when it is not suitable – a team-building course, for example – she believes a mix of traditional classroom and online learning could be used.

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