A few weeks ago I talked to a good friend at a party, and eventually our conversation turned to our jobs. My friend works as a home-help nurse and had recently changed her employer.
She mentioned that she had to renew her CPR certification as part of the job move and jokingly said to me: “I hope none of my patients decides to die on me, because, frankly, after completing the e-learning module on my computer I don’t think I really have a clue what to do.”
I stared at her in disbelief: “You renewed online? No practice sessions, no dummy, no instructor to correct you if you did something wrong?”
She shook her head.
As an instructor this conversation stuck with me, because it is an extreme example of a trend I have certainly seen in the field of project management and change management training. As budgets shrink and companies struggle to save costs, training departments are growing smaller and many courses that were once available as classroom-based training including participant interaction and role-play, case-studies and break-out labs are now offered as e-learning modules, bite-size, hour-long segments that employees are supposed to access outside of their regular work and study at their own pace. Sometimes small tests and quizzes are included, to see if modules were completed and the student retained at least a minimum of the content immediately after finishing.
This trend is particularly worrying in the area of project management certification. As project managers search for low-cost Professional Development Units they can chose from a broad palette of one-hour webinars often offered for free by online training providers who wish to attract potential students to their business.
However, this trend begs the question: in a life-threatening emergency do you want your paramedic to have learned mouth-to-mouth from a computer module? Do you want your projects managed by a guy who looked at a computer screen for a few hours and never actually talked to a real-life stakeholder or lead a team-discussion facing an acute project crisis?
When you learned how to ride a bike as a kid you didn’t just look at pictures of kids riding bikes, you tried it out, over and over, you fell off, you got back on, you rode with training wheels and then without them and you kept going until you didn’t even have to think about how to ride any more. Your body just knew.
As professionals we also need the competence to simply do the right thing, not because we have to consciously think about it, but because it has become second nature to us. So in the age of e-learning where there are no bicycles, no roads and no training wheels, how do we go about it?
The first step is your readiness to take responsibility for your own learning experience. In a classroom setting with case-studies, role-plays and practice, the instructor or facilitator will take partial responsibility for what you experience, but in the realm of e-learning there is no one to monitor your performance or to hold you responsible but yourself. You have to become your own instructor, assess your own level of retention and even work as your own coach and mentor in order to make e-learning truly work for you.
- Be realistic and pace yourself: an hour of e-learning does not seem like much, but if you add to it the time to absorb the contents of the module and translate them into something that you can actually practice and implement in your daily work-routine, this time will most likely have expanded to several hours. So don’t overdo it. You will benefit more from one course that actually translated into a changed work-style on your part than from breezing through four or five modules and retaining nothing.
- Take notes while you learn that you can review. Then translate the concepts of the course into actual tasks that you can perform tomorrow at work. Make yourself a to-do list of what you will change about your work-approach based on your learning and how you will practice it. Be as specific as you can and set yourself measurable and achievable goals.
- Ask yourself what will successful implementation of the learning contents into your work-life look like. “Grade” yourself as you practice. If you are not happy with the results, if you still feel “wobbly” on your bike, practice some more
- Learn as a group. Accessing and learning an e-learning module on your own time can be frustrating and lonely, so find yourself a team-mate as a study buddy, or even learn together as a team. You can encourage one another, share individual goals, discuss questions and even practice together to become more proficient and critique each other’s performance.
If you are prepared to take responsibility for your training results, e-learning can give you good results, and in a time of shrinking training budgets your professional growth and expertise do not have to shrink with them.