Friday, June 27, 2014

Training Trouble: Why E-Learning Doesn't Work for Everyone

I took a little look back at my calendar today and it seemed high time for a blog. My colleagues and I took a little hiatus to finish up the first draft of our corporate book—a project 6 months in the making and one we are very excited to be bringing your way soon. Check back throughout the year for more information about how to get a copy of our step-by-step guide, From Here to Security.

But for now, we're back in the business of blogging—and with something a little different this time.
e-learning, online training, online courses, security awareness training
I know my blogs usually cover ITSec, security breaches, and big business blunders when it comes to securing sensitive information. But in my work on the book, I've really felt a renewed interest in covering the "Why" of all that. Why are companies struggling to close the gaps in corporate security? Why are we seeing a dramatic rise in security breaches in the news?

While I don't believe there is one right answer that covers everyone, I do think that inadequate training has a lot to do with it.

I was poking around some e-learning sites today and stumbled across this article: 5 Reasons that Everyone Should Know: Why E-learning Projects Fail. And, in fact, Sonal Paul does a pretty good job laying out a number of the pitfalls companies fall in when establishing an online training program. According to Paul, the 5 main problems are

  • Poor Need Analysis
  • Gaps in Communication
  • Poor Project Management
  • Failing to Understand the Learner
  • Wrong Instructional Strategy

Bing, bing, bing! That list hits some pretty big nails right on the head. As a company that specializes in crafting training campaigns and individual courses for big businesses, I'd say that our clients run into at least one of these in almost every project (and especially big projects usually struggle with all five).

But listing the problems doesn't even come close to solving them. Many of our e-learning clients would be ill-equipped to address these issues even if they were well aware of the problems up front. So I'd like to take Paul's article a step further and offer some practical advice on each of these points.

Poor Need Analysis: 

When the time comes to explore training options, every wise manager should first ask not “How much will e-learning cost?” or “How long will this online training campaign take?” Instead, the conversation must begin with “What are we trying to accomplish?” or even "Is e-learning right for our environment?'  Web-based training is not necessarily superior to classroom training. More advanced training with all the bells and whistles does not necessarily produce better outcomes in every environment. That’s why those in charge of training must carefully consider their industry, their employee population, and the subjects on which they plan to train before choosing a methodology.

Gaps in Communication:

While Paul's article focuses primarily on communication be the e-learning company and the client, let me suggest that internal communication between the managers who develop the training and the employees that take it is equally important. You must use the employees to create good training—and including all levels of staff in the process from the beginning may make your training more effective.

Poor Project Management: 

Don't make training development a back-burner process that can be left behind or forgotten. This is your company, folks. Take the protection of it seriously, and put people in charge that will also take it seriously. Too many times, we've seen e-learning campaigns dissolve into terrible messes because the project was not valued or given the time and attention it deserved.

Failing to Understand the Learner:

Your training may represent the latest in online instruction, but if it’s boring and mind numbing, then you can bet it’s not teaching anyone much of anything. If you’re training humans (and I assume you are), then be prepared to battle against human nature. Humans get bored. Humans get distracted. Humans complain.

But humans also respond to things that are interesting, interactive, and a removal from the ordinary. When you write and develop training, consider the fact that you must keep the user focused—and that there are many out-of-the-box ways to do this. Use audio and video that represent true situations your employees may face. Keep your employees engaged with interactive games, puzzles, or simulation. Encourage the use of multiple parts of the brain. Give real world examples, use case studies, or even teach principles with humor.

Wrong Instructional Strategy:

Think back to school. What were the lessons that you remember most? Never-ending lectures on American history? Mind numbing sentence diagrams?

Yeah, I don't remember those lessons either. What I do remember is Mr. Williams ninth grade history class. The one where we bundled into our coats, trooped out to the parking lot, lined up into formation carrying spear-like two-by-fours, and charged at our classmates on the other side. Roman battalion formations? Check. Mr Williams picked the right instructional strategy for a boring subject and I’ll never forget it.

Approach E-learning Right.

Smart people make a company successful. But no one’s staff is going to effectively protect anything until managers break out of the “Read and Understand” mentality and change the way they approach e-learning.

Ask yourself: “Have we given our employees what they need to succeed?” If not, then get on the ball and train them well.