e-Learning is not an event, it's a stage on a ... - Saffron Interactive


e-Learning is not an event, it's a stage on a ... - Saffron Interactive

e-ong>Learningong> ong>isong> ong>notong> ong>anong> ong>eventong>, it’s a ong>stageong>

on a journey.

Phil Green


“Would you tell me please, which way I ought to go from here”

“That depends a good deal on where you wong>anong>t to get to,” said the Cat.

“I don’t much care where,” said Alice.

“Then it doesn’t matter which way you go” said the Cat.

“...so long as I get somewhere,” Alice added as explong>anong>ation.

“Oh, you’re sure to do that,” said the Cat, “if you only walk long enough.” 1 1

Advong>anong>ce, © Saffron Interactive 2008

We often speak of voyages of dong>isong>covery, ong>anong>d indeed

it ong>isong> ong>notong> hard to draw parallels between the traveller

ong>anong>d the learner.

Some people travel for business or necessity; others

for escape, dong>isong>covery or pleasure. Some delight

in mystery tours, even though they run the rong>isong>k

of covering old ground; for others it ong>isong> the very

familiarity of old ground that holds the attraction.

Some depend upon a travel agent to help guide

their choice of destination ong>anong>d plong>anong> for the richest

experience of sights ong>anong>d sounds upon the way;

others make do with a map or guide ong>anong>d a phrase

book to overcome cultural ong>anong>d long>anong>guage barriers at

more exotic destinations.

Some check itineraries ong>anong>d tickets, making certain

their passports are valid; others go ill-prepared, lose

their way or check in too soon ong>anong>d suffer a long

ong>anong>d frustrating delay; yet others arrive so late that

they run the rong>isong>k of mong>isong>sing their plong>anong>e. Some carry

too much baggage ong>anong>d so find it hard to maintain a

brong>isong>k pace; others pack too little ong>anong>d soon feel the

lack of some essential. Indeed, ong>notong> all journeys are

problem-free. Even the best-prepared traveller cong>anong>

suffer delays or dong>isong>comfort caused by external ong>anong>d

unpredictable factors – a late train, a fellow

passenger suffering travel sickness, fears of

flying or drowning, ong>anong>d so on.

Some people prefer to travel alone, others

with compong>anong>ions. Some drive, others must

the best training ong>isong>

often considered to

be the most minimal

in terms of time ong>anong>d

content, or, in other

words, little ong>anong>d often

be driven. Some travel quickly, others more

leong>isong>urely. Some journeys are short ong>anong>d

unong>eventong>ful; others may be grong>anong>d affairs

incorporating a variety of trong>anong>sport modes.

All these statements cong>anong> be applied to learners

as well as travellers, regardless of the method

or medium. Let’s now let’s turn our thoughts to

training itself ong>anong>d, in particular, e-learning.

There are mong>anong>y good justifications for

training ong>anong>d development, but there are poor

justifications too. The argument put forward for e-learning often centres on its apparent flexibility, its

Martini-like claim to be suitable “ong>anong>y time, ong>anong>y place, ong>anong>ywhere,” or its capacity to offer learners a choice

of learning routes with different entry or exit points, a dong>isong>tinctive style ong>anong>d preference options. However, in

the past, providers have ong>notong> always been very good at matching e-learning courses to learners’ attributes,

which may in turn explain why, in line with successive approximation (which advocates trial ong>anong>d error,

achieving incremental improvements each time), the best training ong>isong> often considered to be the most

minimal in terms of time ong>anong>d content, or, in other words, little ong>anong>d often.

Likewong>isong>e, mong>anong>y mong>anong>agers are tempted to throw training at all problems instead of dealing with the root

causes ong>anong>d there are too mong>anong>y unrealong>isong>tic hopes ong>anong>d expectations of training. BF Skinner ong>notong>ed a common

trait among mong>anong>agers which he called ‘superstitious behaviour’ – a belief that because something worked

once, it might just work again. 2 Such superstitious behaviour may be the motivation behind mong>anong>agers

sending people on training courses so easily, ong>anong>d behind the determination of e-learning advocates to

squeeze all learning out of a screen. Although there are times when it would be improper to refuse training,

sometimes refusing it ong>isong> the right thing to do; only when you are realong>isong>tic about what training cong>anong> ong>anong>d

cong>anong>ong>notong> accomplong>isong>h do you make the right decong>isong>ions at the right time ong>anong>d ensure that your limited training

budget ong>isong> spent wong>isong>ely.

So how cong>anong> we ensure that e-learning delivers its potential ong>anong>d follows through on its promong>isong>es Let’s consider

the leader who looks out of the window, surveys the entire situation, ong>anong>d says “We’re on the wrong train!”

ong>anong>d hong>isong> colleagues, the efficient producers ong>anong>d busy mong>anong>agers who respond with “Shut up! We’re making

progress!” The leader ong>isong> following Stephen Covey’s advice to begin with the end in mind, advice based on

the principle that all things are created twice – first mentally ong>anong>d then physically. 3 The mental rehearsal ong>isong>

a key part of the process of plong>anong>ning for the success of the physical end creation, yet ong>isong> frequently mong>isong>sing

where training ong>isong> concerned. Thong>isong> lack of plong>anong>ning ong>anong>d forethought results in the continued production of

costly solutions, without sufficient attempt to make sure they’re the right solutions.

2 Advong>anong>ce, © Saffron Interactive 2008

Advong>anong>ce, © Saffron Interactive 2008


In a perfect world, orgong>anong>ong>isong>ations would be stable ong>anong>d predictable, ong>anong>d we would have no need to

worry too much about training; we might choose to foster employee development but it would ong>notong> be

vital to the success of the orgong>anong>ong>isong>ation. But we don’t live in a perfect world! You probably need only

look around your workplace to see evidence of that. Perhaps your compong>anong>y has experienced growth,

‘right-sizing’, re-structuring, new systems or working practices, increased workloads, flattening of

So how cong>anong> training tackle thong>isong> ong>anong>d help people deal with the challenges of their ever-chong>anong>ging

jobs Of course, training cong>anong>ong>notong> magically trong>anong>sform ineffective employees, supervong>isong>ors or

mong>anong>agers into effective ones, it ong>isong> unlikely to resolve all the causes of poor performong>anong>ce, ong>anong>d it

will ong>notong> fix problems that stem from poor structuring of work, unclear responsibilities or other

orgong>anong>ong>isong>ational dysfunction. But it cong>anong> adjust people’s perceptions of the boundaries of their

mong>anong>agement structure or other chong>anong>ges. The only thing we cong>anong> be certain about for the future ong>isong> the

inevitability of chong>anong>ge.

Indeed, the rapid advong>anong>ce of technology, the rong>isong>e of social networking ong>anong>d the adoption of new

mong>anong>agement techniques to support different orgong>anong>ong>isong>ational theories all meong>anong> that chong>anong>ge ong>isong> happening

so fast that, to paraphrase the Red Queen in Alice Through the Looking Glass, we are having to run

ever faster just to stay in the same place. 4 As the world of work chong>anong>ges, we find ourselves confronted

with a constong>anong>t performong>anong>ce gap; we need to develop fresh skills, renewed determination ong>anong>d new

knowledge ong>anong>d concepts to achieve our business ong>anong>d personal goals.

role ong>anong>d help them develop the

new skills they require to meet

expectations. It cong>anong> also help

to build a shared vong>isong>ion ong>anong>d

understong>anong>ding of the orgong>anong>ong>isong>ation’s

mong>isong>sion; to show how mong>anong>agement

values employees; to demonstrate

commitment ong>anong>d loyalty; ong>anong>d to

develop people so they cong>anong> assume

adjust people’s

perceptions of the

boundaries of their

role ong>anong>d help them

develop the new skills

they require to meet


as the world of work

chong>anong>ges, we find

ourselves confronted

with a constong>anong>t

performong>anong>ce gap

Thong>isong> requirement to be both multi-skilled ong>anong>d

prepared to develop laterally applies to everybody

in the workplace. Mong>anong>agers must drive flatter

orgong>anong>ong>isong>ations, deliver total quality ong>anong>d support

empowerment: today’s tasks necessitate skills

which are radically different from those required of

greater responsibility ong>anong>d increase their contribution to the orgong>anong>ong>isong>ation’s success.

Some people maintain that the majority of formal ong>anong>d structured learning experiences bring

virtually no practical benefit to ong>anong> orgong>anong>ong>isong>ation, or even to the individuals who take part.

Reasons for thong>isong> may include poorly implemented training, learning which ong>isong> ill-matched to

needs, or a lack of support or opportunity to apply the learning. Furthermore, much training

ong>anong>d learning ong>isong> ong>notong> thought through, meong>anong>ing that, rather thong>anong> a journey, the experience ong>isong> little

mong>anong>agers in the past. Similarly, ong>anong> adminong>isong>trative assong>isong>tong>anong>t may have been employed for their ability to

type, ong>anong>swer the phone ong>anong>d file, but may now need to deal with customer problems, coach colleagues

ong>anong>d ong>anong>alyse ong>anong>d improve their own working practices. Technology constong>anong>tly drives chong>anong>ge in the

workplace, mong>anong>agement styles are continuously evolving, ong>anong>d employees are increasingly called upon

to pass on knowledge ong>anong>d share their expertong>isong>e. Not mong>anong>y people possess ready-made skills ong>anong>d

attitudes to meet these challenges.

more thong>anong> a diversion. As training budgets are rarely elastic, orgong>anong>ong>isong>ations must ensure their

investments in learning yield a return. It ong>isong> by increasing personal ong>anong>d corporate effectiveness

that such return ong>isong> measured. ong>Learningong> may be the journey, but the intended destination ong>isong> a

link between training ong>anong>d real accomplong>isong>hments (ong>anong> accomplong>isong>hment being something that gets

done, as opposed to a competency – something that people cong>anong> do – or behaviour – something

that people do do).

4 5

Advong>anong>ce, © Saffron Interactive 2008 Advong>anong>ce, © Saffron Interactive 2008

As we have already considered, training ong>isong> a mong>anong>agement tool ong>anong>d, just as you cong>anong>’t drive home a screw with

a hammer, it’s ong>notong> always the only or right tool for the job. Similarly, a solid foundation ong>isong> importong>anong>t: if you

try to use a saw without a vice or a workbench,

the chong>anong>ces are you might cause a serious injury;

if mong>anong>agers expect measured improvement after

training, they must provide the necessary support

ong>anong>d take care of associated problems that cong>anong>’t

be tackled with training. Thong>isong> characterong>isong>tic failure

among mong>anong>y UK mong>anong>agers to play their part in the

plong>anong>ning, preparation ong>anong>d follow-up meong>anong>s that

training ong>isong> a mong>anong>agement

tool ong>anong>d, just as you

cong>anong>’t drive home a screw

with a hammer, it’s ong>notong>

always the only or right

tool for the job

training often does ong>notong> deliver on its potential to add value to the business. Resources are frittered away,

training fails to meet expectations ong>anong>d ong>isong> seen as costly, meong>anong>ing that training budgets are first to be cut in

times of economic hardship.

Training ong>isong> ong>notong> a miracle cure, but a lever to move someone towards those real outcomes. It works best

where there ong>isong> a strong link between individual ong>anong>d orgong>anong>ong>isong>ational needs ong>anong>d where bars to learning ong>anong>d

factors hindering performong>anong>ce have been eliminated. It ong>isong> the involvement, endorsement, sponsorship ong>anong>d

encouragement of mong>anong>agers, ong>anong>d the perspicacity of training providers in applying the right method ong>anong>d

media, that make the difference between training that ong>isong> just a brief excursion ong>anong>d training that really brings

about significong>anong>t results ong>anong>d gets the learner from A to B.

Phil Green has spent mong>anong>y years working within some of

Europe’s major orgong>anong>ong>isong>ations such as AstraZeneca, Pfizer,

Nestlé, Lloyds TSB, Avong>isong>, Unum ong>anong>d Marks & Spencer.

As a consultong>anong>t he has devong>isong>ed countless winning solutions

to help highly successful orgong>anong>ong>isong>ations such as these to

remain at the top of their performong>anong>ce.

He ong>isong> a tutor ong>anong>d course designer for The Chartered Institute

of Personnel ong>anong>d Development, ong>anong>d mong>anong>ages online tutoring

for mong>anong>y of the CIPD’s Advong>anong>ced Certificate courses.

Mong>anong>aging Director of Chesterfield-based Optimum ong>Learningong>

Ltd, he ong>isong> ong>anong> expert ong>anong>alyst ong>anong>d instructional designer ong>anong>d ong>isong>

a recent Past Chairmong>anong> of the E-ong>Learningong> Network.

Much publong>isong>hed, Phil ong>isong> a frequent presenter ong>anong>d track chair

at major conferences ong>anong>d was named in 2007 as one of

the world’s 100 best trainers by the Americong>anong> publong>isong>her



Carroll, L, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderlong>anong>d, 1865.


Skinner, BF, ‘Superstition’ in the Pigeon, Journal of Experimental Psychology, 38, 1948, pp.168-172.

Phil cong>anong> be contacted at optimum@live.co.uk


Covey, Stephen R, The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, 1989.


Carroll, L, Through the Looking-Glass, ong>anong>d What Alice Found There, 1871.

6 Advong>anong>ce, © Saffron Interactive 2008 Advong>anong>ce, © Saffron Interactive 2008



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