Getting to know the pros and cons of e-learning allows a company to make the fully aware choices that are in their best interests. The decision to follow this path must firstly be determined by cost and ROI analysis.
di Davide Della Bella
What is e-learning? One of the leading experts in the field, Elliott Masie, defined it as “The use of technology to design, distribute, select, administer, support and spread training“.
But, the “e”, what does that stand for exactly? “Extended Learning”? Maybe “Enterprise Learning”? Or, better yet, “Electronic Learning”? Why not “Everywhere Learning”? In reality, it is all this and more.
While this is all undoubtedly interesting (imagine that e-learning started in 1837 in England when Mr. Pitman created the first stenography course by post, where students and teachers created bi-directional communication by mail) these definitions do not help to ascertain the virtues and defects of this type of training.
The “pros” and “cons” for companies
Only through the application and successive studies of this field (by companies, schools and universities) has it been made possible to assess the impact of such training. Knowing the pros and cons is essential for a company to make informed choices, correlating to company goals while correctly evaluating the costs and benefits of the program. Among the advantages are the opportunity of learning according to your rhythm and timing (Just in time and just enough), the chance to monitor learning using software capable of recording results and managing didactic programs, the constant updating of content, the flexibility enjoyed through personalization, the use of external support (audio, video etc). Thus, the overall experience is greatly enhanced.
The most obvious negative consequence relates to a lack, in the social aspect, between the teacher and pupil which – in some cases – can lead to a drop in learning motivation.
Companies, especially those of large size, or at least those with a solid structure, and who have been using such instruments for some time, generally prefer the solution known as blended an integration of the two formats, keeping the most positive aspects and reducing the negative ones. Often this can be translated as a split between the spread of information and training. In the former, e-learning is preferred, in the latter interaction between the trainer and the participants.
The essential analysis of cost to benefit
Just as with any other investment, a company deciding to undertake an e-learning scheme will need to fully analyze the costs and returns. As is often the case, training can be a very difficult ROI calculation to make as there is no definitive and explicit table of results coming through training, neither in terms of improvements over time nor even what parameters to use when measuring progress. In the case of e.learning, cost analysis must be measured against other technological alternatives: internal or external platform? Individual or shared devices? Company created or external content? Scorm (Sharable Content Object Reference Model) or non standard modules? Every company must make its own decisions, which are often difficult to reverse, and must be correlated to overall business strategy. Taking external advice can, therefore, be misleading or downright incorrect. All in all, what generally works best for the small and medium sized company is to rely on an external provider, using the Scorm approach in a non-personalized, individual device (not necessarily company owned) set up. This guarantees training at reasonable cost, allowing the company to verify that e.learning is right for them and can be integrated with other, already existing, training regimes. Upon positive receiving feedback, the solution can be up-scaled almost limitlessly: in our age of data abundance, the question then becomes not “whether to continue e.learning” but “what type of e.learning to do”.