E-Learning : is there a future for face-to-face training?

Jon, together with Chris Corr, has just been awarded a contract to provide an E-Learning module on the NEC3 to the Government Procurement Service and we have plans to develop a whole suit of E-Learning modules which cover the whole breadth of knowledge based courses out there on the NEC3 : contract strategy, programming, compensation events, early warning and risk management etc. as well as fairly detailed introductions to each member of the NEC3 family.

So will or should E-Learning  replace replace face-to-face traditional class room based learning or supplement it ? Let's firstly consider the advantages of E-learning :

  • it is accessible anytime and from anywhere providing the learner has an internet connection. This can save, for example, travel costs and time.
  • it can more easily utilise the three ways in which people take in information : more engaging visuals (visual), professional voice artists and recording (auditory) and limited physical movement through, for example, arranging things on the scree (kinaesthetic). By integrating these, they reinforce each other and hence the learning.
  • it can switch between different presentation modes of presentation and interaction - for instance, a presentation by an expert followed by a mind map with voice over to an interview - thus keeping people engaged.
  • immediate feedback on whether the person is retaining the information through not just multiple choice questions, but other simple exercises built into the system. Doing these exercies breaks up the session, helps the learner with retention  and, providing the systems diagnostics are half decent, gives feedback on how effective the E-Learning is.

All in all, this should mean that gaining basic knowledge should be faster, more convenient and more effective, both for the learner and the organisation that wants them to learn the material.

So what's the downside ? 

There is a reasonably well known spectrum that people advance along in learning a topic which goes something like this : awareness; knowledge recognition (as in they click on the right answer in a multiple choice questionnaire); knowledge regurgition (as in you can repeat back what you have been told); understanding (you can discuss the information and make informed value judgements); expertise in doing (normally based on practical experience); and expertise in explaining (being able to explain what you are doing, how are you are doing it and why you do it this way in this circumstance and another way in a different circumstance).

At best, E-Learning gets people up to the knowledge regurgition stage, but more realistically the knowledge recognition stage, although as IT advances it is possible that it develops further down the spectrum.

So where class room based learning comes in is to

  • help trainees develop understanding whereby the trainer amplifies and expands on the topics from the E-Learning;
  • gets participants to do more subjective exercises which involve discussion and 'doing stuff' with the knowledge they have in order to develop understanding; and
  • bring the subject alive both by telling their war stories and giving those trainees with some experience of the subject practical advice and mentoring on the subject in order to develop some expertise in doing.

In conclusion, good E-Learning can be a really effective and efficent way of giving a lot of people awareness and basic knowledge of a topic. It can stop there or be the precursor to more formal class room based learning where the trainer and trainees time is more effectively used to develop understanding and some expertise in the topic. In other words, my view is they co-exist !  

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