Is e-Learning destroying training?

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I am currently reading Andrew Keen’s “The internet is not the answer”. In the book, Keen evaluates the last 25 years of the internet and says we need to rethink the web, rebuild the value of content, resurrect privacy and, above all, reconceive humanity. Which is quite a big ask. One of his main arguments is that the “digital revolution” is destroying, not innovating, every 20th century industry. This made me think, is e-Learning actually destroying training?

Two sides of the coin

Keen talks about two types of technical disruption, the first is your everyday disruption, which is bad. The second is “creative disruption”, that is, finding ways to use technology to render services radically more efficient. Keen argues that the internet has had more negative effects than positive.

To make his point, he has a chapter on Rochester, New York, the home of Kodak. He points out that in 1989 (when the internet was invented) it employed 150,000 people. Despite helping to invent digital photography, Kodak filed for bankruptcy in 2012 and by 2013 only 8,500 people worked for the company. Kodak died while more photographs were being taken than ever before. The problem was, they were going up on Facebook and not being developed at Boots. As a consequence of Kodak’s decline, Rochester has suffered economic hardship and an upsurge in crime.

What is traditional training?

Before we can say whether e-Learning is disrupting or innovating e-Learning we have to look at what traditional training is. Traditional training, as I see it, refers to structured lessons and lectures. These are led by one or more teacher. At Armada we offer a number of courses that are run this way and they still remain popular. The traditional training has its advantages and disadvantages, I’ll just highlight a few of them:

Advantages

  • Initial costs are relatively low for a small scale. For example it cost £350 to put some on an introduction to technical authoring course.
  • Instructors can make on the fly changes to course content to fit a specific learner need.
  • Facilitates class/group communication.

Disadvantages

  • Student are often left in a passive role, with little individual study.
  • Hard to scale without losing effectiveness and greatly increasing costs.
  • Training can only take place at one place at one time.

How is e-Learning disrupting training?

e-Learning takes away the classroom and moves everything onto the internet and, in general, focuses more on the individual learner, encouraging them to find the information for themselves. At its core e-Learning addresses some of the main disadvantages of traditional learning. With e-Learning the long term cost savings can be substantial. So this is pretty much the definition of creative disruption – solving problems and increasing efficiency.

However, there are many issues with e-Learning. e-Learning requires a huge amount self-discipline from a learner. There is also a lot more bad e-Learning than there is good out there, this means that learners can easily be misinformed. There are also an over-reliance on technology, really good e-Learning requires a really good internet connection and this instantly reduces the number of potential learners.

These issues, and more, mean that e-Learning brings in a whole new list of issues which are not easily resolved. The problem is that people see the cost and time saving potential and do not actually think about how effective the e-Learning is.

So is e-Learning destroying training?

In short no, e-Learning’s effect on the training industry is not really comparable to the Kodak example in the book. Mainly because e-Learning doesn’t 100% supersede traditional training, it supplements it. Both traditional training and e-Learning need to exist. This is why blended learning is so popular as you get the best of both worlds. So as far as I’m concerned, the internet is the answer for the training industry (at least in part!).

George Hill (14 Posts)

George is an e-Learning developer and webmaster for Armada. His areas of expertise include HTML5, Javascript and instructional design.


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