I was chatting with a relative recently who, knowing what I do, was happy to pass on her 'experience' with e-Learning.
The national retail company she works for had required all employees to undergo a special online course in basic sales and customer service. The program was built and provided in advance by an outsourcer advertising itself as a specialist with both online training and the retail sector. Employees were told that the training would take a couple of hours and should be done at home, which would be more convenient for them than everyone heading into Melbourne from their local bases around the state. They would receive time off work by way of compensation for the training.
So far so good, right? Retail + Basic Sales and Customer Service + Online + Specialist Provider + No Travel + Time Compensation = Positive Outcome for All Concerned.
She loathed it.
"Silly and a complete waste of my time," she concluded in a mutter of disgust.
I guess when you've been working in retail for close to 40 years, in a store management capacity, training up hundreds of young people who go on to become successful store managers themselves, you'd find the idea of a 90-minute text + video + multiple choice quiz experience oriented around plastic and vague 'scenarios' pretty unappealing as well.
But it wasn't just her. People who had been in retail for as little as 6-12 months found the training ridiculous as well. Nothing they hadn't already learned on the job already. Nothing new or challenging. Nothing that felt very much like applying real sales and customer service skills in the real retail world.
Information later filtered through the network of employees that the outsourcing company had been paid a mint for the program, and the retail company itself was sitting on some sort of government grant that had to be spent in a hurry (or else lose it) as part of a basic compliance initiative. I don't think this would have added to any of the employees' impressions in terms of the whole exercise being a positive and worthwhile experience.
What this goes to show is that, while e-Learning can certainly be cost and time effective, applying it for the sake of it (or something like basic compliance, or to use up an available expense fund), using inappropriate design and development, can be quite risky.
When there is all push and no pull in a learning program, it feels overbearing. Despite whatever time savings we might have created by going online, if it feels worthless then it also feels like a waste of time. When we have assumed what skills the users need to learn rather than taking the time to work out what they really need (and at what level within a management hierarchy), the potential to insult their intelligence and sense of self worth is increased to dangerous levels. When we have gone for simple automation for the sorts of skills that really depend on human interaction and experience, we lose any sense of realism.
If we are aiming purely for plastic rubber ducky compliance outcomes, then that's exactly what we'll get - and to assume it's going to motivate anyone or create any genuinely positive outcomes for a company is naïve at best, corporate stupidity at worst.
But it is that waste of time factor that I really can't get away from.
That and, being an online educational designer, the sense that a couple of hundred employees will now have an impression of online learning that is far from positive.
It didn't have to be that way.