By Anke Henrich
eLearning is an option which offers good conditions for the lifelong acquisition of knowledge. To this end, electronic or digital media are used to present the learning matter, preferably combined with personal communication.
Yet eLearning is also a challenge: for the self-discipline of the learners, as well as for the didactic expertise of the module providers that design the learning offerings and for the HR departments that select these modules. What do employees and companies need to be aware of - and what are the limits of free learning? Thordis Bethlehem, a qualified psychologist specializing in HR and organization development from Stuttgart, reveals all.
Ms. Bethlehem, who benefits most from digital learning?
It is good for employees: Learning offerings can be tailored to their individual needs and prior knowledge ever more closely. They can also acquire knowledge at any time they wish, at their own speed and in any place. If the company has aligned its learning modules closely to day-to-day work, employees can enjoy quick success thanks to the fast transfer of knowledge from theory to the practical arena. At the same time, the company can guarantee standardized teaching quality at any time.
What do HR departments need to keep an eye on?
Less is more! Only focused offerings ensure the desired learning success. Studying alone in front of a computer demands a high degree of self-discipline and individual responsibility, and that isn’t always easy for us.
People need personal contact. That’s why it’s especially important to combine learning in front of a computer with an online peer group or working groups in the company, for example. The benefit of these is even statistically proven: The more individually people learn, the more likely they are to drop out or forget to study. Regular knowledge assessments are also motivating.
As well as practicing lots and applying it all to your work?
Absolutely. Unfortunately, when you read something once, too little of it remains in our memories as we cannot memorize what we have read very quickly.
When do companies fail with online training courses?
The tasks need to be a challenge for the learner, but they should not ask too much of them. It becomes difficult when employees cannot recognize the relevance of the tasks, when they have to wait too long to see the benefits of their learning, or when there are no knowledge assessments and no feedback. The right mix of self-determination and interaction is also important. And learning times should be integrated into employees' working time.
That means that colleagues and superiors also need to accept time spent learning at the workplace as non-negotiable?
This is a really important point, as colleagues - and sometimes also the boss - often do not take this activity seriously enough when it is being performed by their co-workers. But it is just as important as a meeting or a conference call.
How important is a good manager to the success of eLearning?
Firstly, good managers themselves use eLearning offerings that are tailored to them. And secondly, it is their duty to check whether employees demonstrate a growth in knowledge thanks to their use of eLearning. Therefore, it is in their own interests to cooperate.
How can hesitant employees be convinced of the benefit of eLearning? Some are unwilling to learn alone in front of a computer.
Companies need to set up their offerings in such a way that even small gains in knowledge bring about the first learning successes. This does not work using a scattergun approach, but rather by offering very individual learning content. Furthermore, superiors or project managers need to explain the relevance of the new knowledge to employees - in advance and in a convincing way.
And then there is the elephant in the room - colleagues who would rather not take on new tasks. How do we get them on board?
In this case, the company needs to stress that this is a mandatory measure. We will now be working on this, period.
Could eLearning widen the knowledge gap between highly motivated employees and people who are hesitant or reject it?
There is that risk. But good managers recognize this and counter it by applying just the right amount of pressure. And this approach has to be individually tailored, too: What is the reason for the employee’s hesitation or refusal? Maybe the learning method is not the issue at all, but something else entirely.