Workplace elearning, professional development and eLearning are phrases with increasingly blurred meanings. Information technology systems are used to develop business infrastructure and conduct operational protocols like CRM, Finance and Human Resources.
The same systems are extended to include learning management systems (LMS) that enable education and employee development. eLearning has become the cornerstone of education services to the mobile and the busy employee.
Emerging educational technology and learning content is now platform and time independent. Just-in-time training is the name of the game. Employees demand instant access to immediate work context information. Workplace training systems also bring together managers and employees under one communication platform for effective knowledge and experience sharing. Learning content is adapted to such collaborations and lessons-learnt for added agility.
Competent training managers now create content according to the organization and deliver according to the needs of the learner. With the positive relationship between eLearning and employee performance, more content is developed and archived regularly. This has led to proliferation of learning material that is now categorized for re-use. This trend is important to learn and keep up if organizations want to update employee skills, improve ROI on trainings and reduce time taken to develop these trainings. In this section we discuss the major aspects of workplace trainings and the appropriate eLearning strategies.
Learning in the workplace as a process
Learning in the workplace is a three-pronged process. Training managers need to align the learner with the organization, the work-context and other learners. The organizational learning needs are determined through organizational strategic goals and KPIs.
The learner-needs are determined through surveys and poll systems set up in the learning management system. Both organizational and learner needs are aligned to develop responsive training materials. Performance evaluations and feedback from operational managers determine the immediate learning needs of the work-context.
For example, careful observation of employees at work will determine a pattern of mistakes and improvements. These can easily be converted into job aids for just-in-time trainings. Employees can receive training and apply learning as needed, providing immediate value. Finally, learners need to be connected to other learners for social interaction and knowledge transfer.
Together these three elements complete the learning in the workplace.
Types of e-Learners
Based on a popular survey ICT Test Bed technological maturity model, authors Underwood & Dillon (2004) revealed six distinct types of e-learners in the work-place:
- The Novice: These learners know very little about eLearning.
- The Sporadic User: Use of eLearning is localized or sporadic – it is used in some departments.
- The Developing User: These users are developing and coordinating use of eLearning.
- The Established User: eLearning is established across the company and is transforming the learning and development (L&D).
- The Embedded User: eLearning is thoroughly embedded within the company. The learning culture influences the daily work-context.
- The Innovator: Leaders and innovators are utilizing eLearning. Always experimenting with new ideas and new technologies.
In the current workplace, a wide range of learning approaches already exist. Employees engage in the following eLearning activities:
- Online, interactive eLearning sessions on their computer with other learners and a facilitator.
- Completing activities on their computer that are available from a specific course deployed from the organization’s learning management system.
- Downloading course material and resources for reference and reading.
- Researching information from external sites.
- Listening to an online lecture/podcast.
- Viewing a You Tube or Vimeo video related to the course.
- Posting comments on an online chat forum for knowledge development sites like wikis or course collaboration system.
- Completing an assessment online.
- Attending a live session associated with the course to deepen their understanding.
- Discussing the course content or requesting for advice from colleagues related to the course.
Performance-based Workplace eLearning Strategy
eLearning in the workplace is geared towards enhancing learning and organizational performance. As mentioned above, KPI’s are excellent sources of performance measurement and the resulting training evaluation. Performance-based trainings are best developed using simulations and scenario enriched courses. Simulations and scenarios replace real experiences with guided ones. They develop “immersive” environments that replicate the immediate work context of the learner.
The substantial aspects of the work environment are reenacted with layers of interactivity. Simulation-based learning is highly effective in developing the learner’s knowledge, skills, and attitudes. This is done while protecting them from work-associated procedural and operational risks. Simulation-based training can be a platform which mitigates ethical dilemmas and resolve practical problems. Simulation-based training techniques, tools, and strategies can also be used as a performance measurement gauge linked to targeted teamwork competencies and learning objectives. Such practices have been successfully adopted in fields such as aviation and the military.
The medical field with its multi-disciplinary professionals also benefit from simulations. The realistic scenarios and software simulations enable repeated trainings sessions for practice until mastery is achieved. Business schools, corporations and technical education schools are now turning to simulation-based trainings for performance improvement.
Simulation-based training can enhance performance and skills, improve knowledge and behavior in the following ways:
- Technical and functional expertise training
- Problem-solving and decision-making skills
- Interpersonal and communications skills or team-based competencies
Teamwork training conducted in the simulated environment is another realm that is being explored to enhance performance and reduce errors. Traditional teamwork training using didactic instruction is time consuming as well as expensive. Remote team development is the new norm, allowing repeated use of the learning materials.
Learning new software or operational machinery can be developed using simulation eLearning strategy. An organization with a product selling emphasis will benefit from this strategy. Trainings to reinforce best practices in customer service can also be developed using scenario-based trainings. Organizations dealing with service selling emphasis, directly to the customer will benefit from this strategy.
Workplace training is no longer limited to “click next” eLearning courses. Training managers emphasize on performance measurement before and after training and leverage it with organizational KPI. Trainings that directly emulate the performance context are the most effective in the long run.
Overton, Laura & Hills, Howard (2009). eLearning Maturity in the Workplace – Benefits and Practices.