When Elearning Fizzles (A Case Study)

My boss and I have been wanting to attend a course on project management for some time and were looking forward to a week-long workshop later this month. Until it was cancelled. So we made a pact to complete a series of elearning modules that covered the same content. We agreed to meet weekly to check in and share key learnings from the various modules until we completed the course and passed the accompanying exam for certification. Following is a recap of our experience plus expert commentary on how to move forward.

The Situation

Realizing we wouldn’t be able to attend a specific project management course, my boss and I chose to enroll in an 8-module elearning course that covered the same content. At the end of the course a certification exam would be waiting for us. More than “certification,” our motivation for completing this course was twofold:

1)      To assess our organization’s current project management processes and identify ways to improve the way we organize our project-based work, and

2)      To investigate how we could better use elearning as a professional development tool for the rest of our team who are generally too busy to miss work for a week in order to attend an instructor-led training course.

What Happened

To kick off our learning alliance, we put a series of weekly check-ins on our Outlook calendars and blocked off time on our calendars to dedicate to completing these elearning modules. We were ready to go!

And then a work trip happened.

And several important meetings bumped the time we had initially allocated to complete the elearning modules.

An important meeting that will take place in Tokyo next April needed to be planned.

When the time came for our first check in, neither of us had completed the first two modules. We re-scheduled our check-in and re-committed to our intentions of completing the elearning. Others things came up. Last night I meekly sent another meeting cancellation notice to my boss suggesting we re-schedule our check-ins until after Christmas when we both have more time to focus on completing the elearning.

Analyzing the Situation

Elearning has not been a strong part of our organizational or team culture, and getting into a disciplined habit of setting aside time to complete specific modules isn’t something we’ve been able to achieve yet. Earlier this month, I posted a case study of an incredibly effective training experience that led to immediate transfer of knowledge and skills to my day-to-day routine, and I pointed to three key factors that led to the effectiveness of the training:

1)      Supervisor Support

2)      Immediate Application

3)      Excellent Training Design & Delivery

In the context of this rapidly fizzling elearning experience, I certainly have my supervisor’s support – he’s in this with me. One of our key motivating factors is to revise our current project management processes, so there is an immediate and important opportunity for application… though to be sure, this is not an urgent priority. The design of the elearning modules follows a story narrative and is certainly more engaging than many other elearning modules that I’ve taken in the past.

Expert Commentary: Mike Culligan, Director, Last Mile Learning, LINGOS

There is no guaranteed strategy to ensure course completion.  While the three conditions mentioned in the case study are strong predictors of success (supervisor support, immediate application and high quality design/delivery), clearly, they were not enough.  In some ways, learning is like dieting – you know there are clear and proven benefits, but it is incredibly hard to start and stay on the program.  So, as a next step, why not borrow three strategies that dieters have used for years:

  • Incentives: Provide a reward once certification is attained. Perhaps a day off is appropriate since it represents only 25% of the time it would have taken to attend the training in a face-to-face environment.
  • Competition: The first of the two of you to successfully complete your certification gets a reward such as a free lunch certificate.
  • Disincentives: Dieters find that one of the biggest motivators is when they are forced to do something they don’t want to do.  A third strategy might be to set a deadline for completion of a module, or the certification.  If you are unable to meet the deadline, you are forced to give a donation to an organization whose mission stands against everything you believe in (such as a political PAC or candidate with whom you absolutely disagree).

Think you can diagnose what might be leading to the fizzle of this particular elearning experience? Share your diagnosis in the comments section below.

2 thoughts on “When Elearning Fizzles (A Case Study)

  1. Brian,
    Bravo for sharing your experience humbling as it is. What is particularly delightful is how in real life a very good idea with more than modest intention can still not quite achieve the intended results.
    While elearning is a practical and logical solution to some of the training needs Sightlife is addressing, your vignette illustrates the human side of this technology.

    Thank you for offering it up…and may the best man win next time!! ( I understand that you and your boss have a $50 wager on whoever completes the course and certification successfully first)

    Larry

    • Thanks Larry. Yes indeed – my boss and I do have $50 riding on whether or not we’re able to finish these elearning modules prior to Jan 3!

      One of the great things about these posts is the reflective practice I was forced to do as I crafted the articles. Another great thing was the suggestions offered up by both Mike (on Monday) and Nicole (on Tuesday) – both suggestions seem to be things we’re now either doing or considering as we re-evaluated how we leverage technology to better reach our learners.

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