E-Learning – The Fast Food of Organisational Learning?

I recently reviewed a 2010 Ted Talk by Sir Ken Robinson where he argues for change in education. He warns us against the industrialisation, systematisation and standardisation of education – how this linear, ‘one size fits all’ treatment of education stifles the organic nature of learning.

Are we creating a ‘fast food’ standardisation mentality with e-learning courseware? I think we sometimes are. My position on this is captured in my blog post How we think about learning influences our e-learning practice.

I am personally very concerned about the ‘one size fits all’ approach of typical e-learning courseware for training staff on soft skills – skills that are associated with ambiguity and bias. This is why I so favour facilitated virtual classroom (webinar) for learning, sharing and collaboration.

As humans our bias to problem-solving is to think linearly and engage our habits. In soft skills, evolving how we communicate with others, problem-solve people issues etc, happens best when we pop out of our habitual way of responding – when people’s ideas and perspectives collide and we test our assumptions and develop new perspectives for ourselves. For the most part, e-learning courseware is passive and doesn’t provide the challenge and stimulus to pop staff out of their biases.

We also need to be careful when developing e-learning courseware for soft skills that we don’t assume all the learner needs to do is become familiar with the content. Of course it’s not – they need to be able to ‘apply’ the content into specific contexts. Generally speaking, people require multiple exposures to concepts and to detail to embed their learning. Often the topic requires practice and conversation between manager and staff, L&D and learner etc. If this isn’t happening, then there can be serious assumptions made of the learning outcomes being achieved by soft skill e-learning courseware.

Social media for learning soft skills and tasks

What does excite me is the connectivity and personalisation of many well-designed social media platforms – platforms that have used disciplines in psychology, human-computer interaction and usability to develop solutions that are really ‘in sync’ with how people work, behave and respond. What we need to do is to begin to really understand workflow – begin to ask new and different questions in our learning needs analysis.

The role of manager as coach; who understands how learning is occuring in the workplace and who can provide the opportunities to challenge staff assumptions, is an increasing imperative.

I strongly encourage any organisation with a decent budget to pop out of their e-learning courseware paradigm and begin to explore the opportunities of social media. Examine the ‘enablement’ principles of some well known platforms, the ‘chaos’ principles of sophisticated games and simulations, and explore how these might fit your capability development requirements.

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