When a really good instructor gives a live class, the presentation is compelling and the participants are engaged by the teacher’s presence; they are caught up in the momentum of the class. If that same class was delivered via e-learning, all of the presence and engagement and motivation that the teacher brings is lost. So the first challenge for an e-learning course is to explicitly construct the material so that it is compelling and challenging in and of itself.
A simple restatement of the instructor-given material in an online format will inevitably be insufficient. Therefore, for the online version to be successful, the training must be consciously structured to engage.
Learning is a very personal act. If the reason for the learning activity is clear, if the material is relevant and engaging, if interesting interactions keep the participant focused, and if the participant sees the experience as a means to gain a positive outcome, then the participant will be motivated – the gold standard for e-learning. Participants who are motivated have energy to pay attention, analyze, create meaningful associations, synthesize, remember what they learned, and apply it to their jobs. To create really successful e-learning, motivation must be consciously and explicitly built in; it is as important and sometimes more important than the presentation of the content itself.
The second problem is a simple logistical one. Once participants are in a live class, most likely they are not simply going to get up and leave! Yet when classes are taken online, participants are self-directed and can do anything they want. The challenge therefore is to explicitly construct the class so that participants are consciously placed in control of their own learning experiences and inspired to complete the entire class.
Since e-learning is self-directed, it should be designed to let participants get a feel for the material up front. This is actually part of the instructional power of the course: making explicit what will be learned, what the activities will be, how much time it will take, how hard it will be, and what is expected of them. As though paging through a book, participants should be able to browse the course structure and support materials to get the picture of what’s coming and determine a personal strategy for absorbing it.
E-learning is appropriate for a wide range of training solutions, from simple operational learning to complex problem solving, and has many cost benefits. But to truly make it shine, it must be consciously structured both to engage and to put the learner in control.