By Ryan Healy — I recently received an email from career coach and corporate consultant, J.T O’Donnell. She attached a link to a new e-learning course that she gives to young employees, and she asked for my input. For days, I debated how to respond. Eventually, I replied and told her that I hate all e-learning.

She said that most millennials she works with dislike e-learning. So, she only designs e-learning tools that are coupled with personal teaching and discussion.

After mentioning my desire to write a post about doing away with e-learning, J.T gave me some great insight. She told me, “It helps save companies thousands in training costs.”

Bingo! Now I know why companies are using e-learning to replace hands-on mentoring and teaching – it’s cheap. Clearly, a company’s main goal is to make a profit, and this means minimizing costs wherever possible. However, training and developing your employees, especially the confused new hires, is not the right area to cut costs.

At orientation, the first time my peers and I logged in to complete an e-learning course, we all looked at each other with puzzled faces. I thought, “Is this serious?” Others snickered throughout the whole assignment and most of us jumped through the course totally bored. Without discussion or one-on-one teaching e-learning is cheap, ineffective and gives the impression that a company does not care enough to invest time or money into training. Which in turn, gives the impression that employees are unimportant.

I don’t necessarily think that loathing e-learning is a millennial trait. My Gen X co-workers constantly complain about the thoughtless “busy work” that comes from e-learning tools. My mother even called the other day to rant about the stupidity of her e-training classes. So who actually benefits from this?

Maybe companies use this cheap training because they expect people to job hop and don’t want to waste budget dollars on employees who won’t be around for long. But in reality, not focusing on personally training and developing entry level employees is probably what causes them to job hop in the first place.

If an e-learning tool can somehow be coupled with actual face-to-face learning or mentoring then I am all for it. Just don’t use it as a replacement for real teaching. I crave the personal connections that come with one-on-one or classroom teaching, even if the rest of my life is spent online.

Ryan Healy’s blog is Employee Evolution.

28 replies
  1. Ed F.
    Ed F. says:

    GREAT GREAT POST!!!! I have been a fan for several months now and you hit the nail right on the head with this one. I do feel that e-learning is appropriate for SOME things, however most of the time you are correct, it makes companies look like it couldn’t care less WHAT kind of training you recieve and most of the time you are so bored by it you just blow right through it without learning ANYTHING.

  2. Igor
    Igor says:

    e-learning says two things to a person:

    1. We don’t care about you
    2. You are just like everybody else

    I don’t think that this is the way to start a dialogue with a new hire.

  3. Benjamin Strong
    Benjamin Strong says:

    Alright, I hate to admit this but I failed our offices sexual harassment e-training three times before eventually passing it. Don't worry, I know the important stuff. Don't talk and act inappropriately. I got hung up on the minutia. Things like how many days a person as to report harassment, what forms to fill out are what tripped me up. It took me two tries to pass our credit card training. Our safe lifting class I breezed through in 15 minutes and I am now a certified fire extinguisher user. I can't stand e-learning. Put me in a class room with my peers. At least that way I can network with other people in the organization.

  4. Susan Martin
    Susan Martin says:

    I agree, nothing can replace the interaction and focus that goes on in a classroom setting, it’s scary to think how many colleges and universities are offering it without any classroom time!

  5. Wendy
    Wendy says:

    As a former university teacher who innovated with internet tools in combination with classroom learning, I think *some* corporate e-learning could work if the courses were designed properly. Look at this blog, we’re all learning electronically and not spending any in-person time. The problem isn’t correspondence learning or e-learning, the problem is course design.

    Today especially, and with millenials especially (Ryan correct me if I’m wrong), learning needs to be interactive and thought provoking. Too many e-learning courses are about memorization and regurgitation — and tend to insult people’s intelligence instead of complement it.

    It doesn’t have to be this way.

    ********

    Wendy,

    I completely agree, some e-Learning can work if courses are designed properly.  The design must consist of interactive, thought provoking training coupled with constant personal interaction with a teacher and/or with fellow employees.  This is why I like J.T.’s tool, it combines all three.

    -Ryan

  6. Ryan Paugh
    Ryan Paugh says:

    Wendy:

    I’ll be honest, e-learning sucks. It’s the coldest way to welcome a new hire to your company. When you have the opportunity to engage your employees in a classroom, but you choose to do so via an electronic source to save some cash, you’re making a mistake.

    Blogging is a great way to engage ourselves with people around the globe, but if you were working in the same buiding as me, I’d rather set up a face-to-face.

    Business is going global on so many fronts, making this so much more difficult. At my company, we now use video conferencing to train our Asia-Pacific colleagues. I like this. I hope as the technology becomes more viable for smaller companies we see e-learning software become obselete and “old-school” interaction reborn with a modern-day twist.

  7. Fati Erdogan
    Fati Erdogan says:

    E-learning is fantastic!

    I am the Head of Corporate Communications for a multinational company. In the last 4 years, I have been working in Istanbul after having worked in Oslo, Singapore and California for 10 years. Last year, I enrolled in UC Berkeley’s online classes, because, locally, I couldn’t find what I was looking for. I enjoyed these classes, partly because I needed the knowledge more than the face-to-face network a class could have given me.

    I am a busy professional. And I don’t have much time. E-learning provided me with the flexibility I needed. I studied whenever I had the time to study. Particularly, when you live in a city like New York, Istanbul or Rome, your life can get pretty inefficient due to heavy traffic. In Istanbul, to get from one place to another takes you a min of 1 hour-regardless of how short of a distance you travel…I don’t have 2 hours to waste in traffic, really. Besides, when the technology is there to assist you, why use traditional methods?

    If a company is providing education to its employees, online or offline, this means that a company cares about its employees. Remember that not all companies spend money to train their employees. And if your employer does, you better don’t take it for granted.

    When a company offers e-learning opportunities and employees think they are “undervalued and not cared enough" just because it is an e-learning course, then I would question whether I have hired the right person for the position or not. If I have hired a "confused" new employee, probably I'd be the one to be blamed for making a bad hire! To be successful, young professionals with a few years of work experience need to advance their skills early on. E-learning is there for you to "learn" and if you need mentoring/face-to-face learning, one would assume that you have a manager who mentors you and guides you. If you don't, it is your choice to stay or quit and find a job that you like better.

    A company is not there to make you feel happy or content. That is your job to keep yourself happy and satisfied. If you are not satisfied, you should move on.

    In short, if a course can be learned online (because it is cheap and efficient) then e-learning can be the best solution. If what you need to learn has to be taught in class physically, then I am hoping that the company you work for has the capability to understand that need before hand. Or, hopefully, it has employees who are cooperative enough to guide their employers in the right direction.

  8. Adrian
    Adrian says:

    Sure, e-learning sucks. But getting rid of all e-learning seems to be a baby-bathwater thing.

    Maybe we should make e-learning not suck?

  9. Dave
    Dave says:

    It depends on what you are trying to learn…sometimes, you just need to get the information on a topic and a well-designed computer instruction can be great. It allows you to proceed at your own pace. There is nothing worse than being stuck in a classroom where you have to wait for the instructor to explain everything to everyone when you know 95% of it already and are just waiting for them to get to the part you need.

    I wouldn’t be so quick to complain about the employer because they use e-learning, even though it is done poorly. They probably don’t have the resources to do it “right.” but at least they are trying to do something…maybe e-learning could be used to encourage people to be prepared for a follow-on training session so you don’t have people just showing up expecting someone to tell them how to do their jobs. Example: make people go through those silly videos and questionaires about an issue like sexual harassment or privacy policy, then have a group discussion with facilitators to really talk about the operational details. That would be much better than having to sit through hours of powerpoint slides about the definition of harassment, etc.

  10. Tyson
    Tyson says:

    Dave:

    “At least they’re trying” is not acceptible to me. Employee education should be a top priority for any company.

    Sure, you’ve got a degree, have all the book smarts, but what about the street smarts you can only get from your posse?

    Companies need to be more engaged. E-learning is usually the same thing as another college-level text.

  11. Jacqui
    Jacqui says:

    I’m a huge fan of e-learning, and have used it at every available opportunity, mostly because of the opportunity to work at your own pace.

    I agree that it may not be the best option for new hires, but, at the same time, I don’t think that receiving personal instruction as a new hire would make me any more or less likely to stay with a company. The e-learning experience is a very small percentage of the overall experience a company offers, and the kind of interaction taking place on daily basis is far more important to me in that kind of decision.

  12. Jenflex
    Jenflex says:

    Is the big issue with e-learning that it’s purely push, vs. pull- or network-enabled? I mean, this blog is a kind of e-learning.

    I ask this, because I was looking at e-learning as a way to enrich understanding of my marketing collateral pieces. It’s a lot of detail, would make for a boring classroom session, but I think I could break it apart into a small series of e-learning modules, and incent people to view these during job down-time.

    Are there ways e-learning **can** work?

    ********

    Good point, this blog is a kind of e-learning.  The big difference is we all choose to read this blog because we want to hear what Penelope has to say.  I suppose e-learning can work if you are choosing to take a course because you are truly interested in the topic.  The problem arises when these courses are required.  A boring course on a boring topic is bound to fail!  Let me know how the marketing course goes…

    -Ryan 

  13. Susan
    Susan says:

    I thought it was pretty tacky when I was in high school and my teachers started using online “learning communities” so that instead of bugging them to ask questions about assignments, we could look up the info online. Sure, it makes their lives easier but it also cuts out some of the one-on-one interaction that is so important to learning. They would refuse to answer questions, saying “it’s explained online.”

    I signed up for an e-course with iVillage recently, and I had the best of intentions, but I never even logged on to do the assignments because I got busy. Plus, I spend all day at a computer and just didn’t feel like more computer work when I got home.

  14. Igor
    Igor says:

    Fati:

    As many have said already e-learning is not inherently problematic, but the application and execution of e-learning is fundamental to its success. The problem in the post is about new hires and sitting them in a room to stare at a computer screen for hours watching mind-numbing material.

    Imagine this, you are on a blind date with someone you are interested in, you don’t know this yet but this person is really gifted and wonderful and is a great match for you. You say “hello” and after a cursory smile they hand you a large folder. The folder contains a lot of information about what they like, don’t like, how many kids they want, allergies, etc.. It’s written in long lists with pie graphs and charts. They say, “I’m going to let you read over this, in the meantime I'll be at the bar and have a drink or two.”

    Chances are, there is not going to be a second date. At probably the most important part of the development of the relationship instead of warmth and personality you get alone time with a reading assignment. You may dismiss that dating and work are completely different things, but I would beg to differ. All interactions we engage in, whether it is with a company, a friend, a romantic interest or a dog they are all relationships that need to be nurtured and developed. And although the first date, e-learning, or interview are very brief and seemingly insignificant events in the context of a long term job or relationship the first impression is always strongest.

    Corporations do not hesitate to give lip service to how important employees are to them and that without their people they would be nothing. This runs contrary to e-learning processes that are described by Ryan in the post. Of course in the long run the market will decide whether “e-initiation” is an economically sound choice.

    As to your comment about how “A company is not there to make you feel happy or content” you are mistaken. While nominally the company is there to make their shareholders rich (and therefore happy) there are numerous studies that show that happy workers (who may or may not be shareholders) are more productive, creative and healthier. All these things are easily translated into higher profits for the company. Alexander Kjerulf runs a wonderful blog (The Chief Happiness Officer) on this topic at http://positivesharing.com

    As head of corporate communications for a MNC I would humbly suggest you look outside your position and maybe take some courses in organizational behavior or speak to the principal of your human resources department, it will surely give you greater breadth of understanding that you can apply to your daily work.

  15. Fati Erdogan
    Fati Erdogan says:

    Igor,

    Companies are not there to make you feel happy. If you are happy, of course it helps and that is why we all run a ton of motivational events, put together reward systems and etc. But if you “expect” your company to be the source of your happiness, I am convinced that you are likely to be miserable in the long run. I humbly suggest you try to get a life outside of your work.

  16. Igor
    Igor says:

    Fati:

    You are right and I am afraid I wasn’t clear. I don’t think anyone expects their company to make them happy. In fact, employees, even in what many would consider bad work situations, will make the best and almost trick themselves in to thinking they are happy. A company truly has to go out of their way to make workers unhappy.

    I definitely did not mean that a job should be the **source** of a person’s happiness. I really meant that if there is anything a company can do to make their employees more productive in an economically feasible way — they should. Part of that is ensuring they are happy, like you said “that is why we all run a ton of motivational events, put together reward systems and etc.”

    However, I believe that with Millennials you will find that motivational events, compensation-based reward systems and etc. will not work as well as it arguably has with boomers, x-ers and the all those in between. This is good for a lot of companies because the rewards that Millennials seek are not really money but more intangible things. This is also bad because this is a new way of thinking of “reward systems” and will take time for managers to adjust after dealing with boomers.

    I am afraid I have taken this comment way off the original topic. Sorry Penelope.

  17. Stacey
    Stacey says:

    As a gen-Xer in a company that uses e-Learning here are my obersvations.

    1) e-Learning is a good way to get staff through mandatory training required for accredidation in our industry.

    2) e-Learning is quick, easy to setup and allows employees to take it at any time. This is especially important in industries where we have 24/7 shifts. Like healthcare.

    3) e-Learning does not eliminate other types of learning. Our organization does not use it for orientation basics but does use it for all annual requirements. Classes about how to deal with fire, lost children, etc are online. However classes about how to be a better manager – they are in a classroom.

    Nobody really loves e-Learning. However if organizations are going to continue to spend money on development training, it’s a great way to not have to spend on mandatory training.

  18. Rupa
    Rupa says:

    It is not OK to brush aside eLearning all together.

    Face to Face Training and Mentoring is non existent in most companies. In this fast-paced world no one really has the time to mentor anyone in the real sense.

    Elearning courses at least help you learn things on your own.

    If the learner is not interested even face to face trainings do no good.

    So what is important is to make trainings interesting, be it eLearning or face to face training.

  19. Peggy
    Peggy says:

    Love this post – I also hate e-learning. Unless combined with in-person interaction it just becomes another form of spam and/or busywork. In my role in HR is is so apparent to me that most of the problems (“employee relations”) issues are a direct result of lack of interpersonal connection. People are dying for someone to talk to them and to care.

  20. Matt M
    Matt M says:

    I am a millenial and at my previous job we had extensive trainings (a grand total of 90-100 hours per year) of trainings some, in class, some e-learning. After having all of this experience I really grew to dislike some of the class room experiences more than the e-learnings. And to say that all e-learning sucks is sort of like saying all cars suck. Really cars are not the best way to get around in all areas and situations but in some cases they are essential. Plus, there are nicer, better cars which are great and there are also some junky cars out there that are not worth your time/money.

    I liked e-learning because it allowed me to go at my won pace and it allowed me the flexibility to make time for it in addition to my regular work. Granted there are e-learnings that are boring and not really that informative but we had many that were very good. Some were so sophisticated that they had introductory questions at the beginning which if you scored high enough on those you were just given credit for the entire course and you were done in about 5 minutes. Others recorded the time you spent on each screen and if you appeared to click through too quickly it would stop you and force you to stay on a page for a time. Also, I am an accountant and some of the trainings involve proper documentation for audits and tax forms so you needed to have the document/form in front of you to understand the concept so e-learning was basically the best way to set it up.

    I disliked in-class training more because it was strain on my regular workload to attend them, our offices were all over the country so the trainings would require some travel, when people starting asking clearly dumb (ie uninformed) questions it slowed down the pace for everyone and led to more people being distracted. Although the networking opportunities with peers were not that valuable since we had plenty of other networking opportunities surrounding meetings, events, happy hours etc. What was very valuable were the handful of trainings where the staff along with the managers, directors and partners were in the same class because it gave you an opportunity to demonstrate knowledge to these higher-ups and get a feel for their thought processes based on their questions and comments. This can also be critical to ensuring that everyone is getting the same message and understanding.

  21. Laura Kratochvil
    Laura Kratochvil says:

    Okay, while, yes, there is LOTS and LOTS of bad elearning out there (no doubt)…and I agree, as a GenXer, life is too short to deal with it…I also see a little “irony” from a internet blog about “hating online, no face-to-face/classroom interaction”. I don’t have to “be with you”, and see face-to-face the people (although I am sure you are all beautiful) that have posted here. I have to say I guess I missed a lot of that loving “interactive feeling that goes on in a classroom setting.” I went to high school in the late 80’s and the first thing that comes to mind is Ferris Buller’s class. Hmmmm…Anyone? Anyone? Anyone?
    Then of course maybe the majority of highschools got REALLY INTERACTIVE and FACINATING in the 90’s and 00’s?
    Blogs, Wikis, other “interactive” online opportunities are not only making web sites more interesting and interactive, but are finally trickleing into elearning as well. So, I see the elearning “future is so bright” I have to wear interactive cool shades.

  22. Rick Sline
    Rick Sline says:

    I’m a computer programmer working at a medical school. About 20% of employee orientation stuff was e-learning some were federally mandated courses like HIPPA. The classroom stuff was incredibly boring and way too time consuming (class was 40% post grad including MD/PhD, 20% nurse level non post grad, 40% admin – I fell in the post grad group)

    In a previous job I taught professional-level computer programming face-to-face to small classes. It was difficult to cover the equivalent of a full college semester course in 40 hours straight – 8hrs/day for a group with widely varying backgrounds and innate intelligence. Being an remote mentor for elearning would have helped us all immensely – those not yet up to speed could take more time. There are now programs like that.

    Being a visual/kinesthetic learner I do best at my own pace with opportunities to try things out. I also like to push the envelope and go beyond what’s being taught.

    Since I have to pay for my own technical training it’s a combination of books plus free or inexpensive elearning. I generally make at least 3 passes through all the technical stuff to make sure I got it. The simple stuff like HIPPA was a cursory pass and a test – missed 1 question (on an obscure detail).

    I’ve contacted a few technical book authors / elearning gurus with specific questions beyond the scope of their presentation and have gotten excellent responses. In one case the author (of 15 books on the subject) hired me as a part-time subcontractor when she has overload – it’s been a win-win.

  23. Techfanatic
    Techfanatic says:

    The purpose of this post is to express my opinion which seems to be on the other side of the coin.

    I am a fan of e-Learning and I also create some e-Learning materials for our company (an ISP helpdesk) aside from my job of actually training people. With my experience, I have seen the big benefits of e-Learning. Aside from the lower cost which was a highlight in the blog, it also is a very good tool in rapid information dissemination, which is very crucial for operations in our case – we need to know as much as we can in a small span of time.

    I am proud to have garnered 97-100% ratings in all of my training classes that I handled “live”. I recently created an e-Learning course series and I got 100% approval from our learning committee. The trainees liked it too.

    I believe it all depends on how a trainer can transcribe or translate his training style to moving text, speaking “instructors”, and animations within the e-Learning tools.

    The only reason why e-Learning should not work is if the e-Learning tools or system is solely being ran by those who know how to use it rather than an experienced trainer who would sit down on the computer and do the presentations.

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