Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Ways to Improve the Effectiveness of eLearning

By Danielle Slatinsky

Training Magazine Network hosted a webinar on April 10, 2012 titled “Making eLearning Stick.” Dr. Barbara Carnes, author and CEO of Carnes & Associates, Inc., was the main speaker, and more information about her work is available here.

Dr. Carnes mainly discussed the reasons why information learned through eLearning is not typically retained, and she also provided ways to make sure that eLearning sticks in participants' minds.

Common Frustrations with eLearning

Dr. Carnes started the webinar by explaining that many people are frustrated with training programs because the completion rates for eLearning and webinars is very low. Developers spend a substantial amount of time creating training programs that are designed to be meaningful, and people are not applying what they learn to their jobs.

Scrap learning is a term Dr. Carnes used to describe learning that is not applied in the workplace. The key to avoiding scrap learning is in the training transfer, according to Dr. Carnes. Training transfer means that the knowledge and skills gained in training are transferred, or applied, to the job.

What Contributes to Effective Learning?

Based on Dr. Carnes' research, there are three components that contribute to the effectiveness of eLearning: pre-work, learning event, and follow-up. Pre-work, such as a questionnaire or survey, contributes about 25% to learning effectiveness. The learning event, or eLearning training course, also contributes about 25%. Follow-up actually contributes the most; it impacts the effectiveness of training by roughly 50%, which is twice the amount of pre-work and the learning event. Ironically, follow-up is usually the least implemented event.

In Dr. Carnes' presentation she listed a variety of learning content and activities: active participation, relevant content, learning goals, behavior modeling, self-management strategies, strategy link, and error-based examples. She specifically focused on error-based examples and strategy link. Error-based examples are not commonly used, and she said that they lead to higher levels of training transfer when they are coupled with good examples. Strategy link consists of linking core content to teaching objectives, mission goals, or the business strategy. This helps participants see the larger scope and relevance of the training.

Methods for Knowledge Retention

Dr. Carnes listed many T.I.E.s, or Techniques to Integrate Education. These techniques should be used before, during, and after learning, regardless of the content. They can be used for new or existing training presentations, and they increase the training transfer.

For example, a pre-training briefing is beneficial to provide expectations and encourage a positive attitude about the training purpose. Dr. Carnes suggested sending out an e-mail from the boss before training, which should include what they will learn, how they will apply it to the job, and what could happen if they do not learn the material.

There are a multitude of methods that can be used during the training to improve retention. Studies have shown that it helps if participants are asked to close their e-mail or other applications while learning because distractions increase the time it takes to learn. Pop-up reflections containing self-regulation questions are also advantageous. A pop-up reflection asks the participants rhetorical questions to get them to think about what they are learning, such as “Do I understand the key points in the training material?” or “Are the study strategies I'm using helping me remember the content?”

Another method that can be effective is threaded discussions. Dr. Carnes mentioned that interaction leads to better outcomes. It is important to use open-ended questions in threaded discussions, and it is also helpful to require a certain amount of responses. These threads allow the participants to process the material and think critically about the content. When you take this approach, you will need someone to monitor and track the dialogues.

At the end of training, summarize the material and have participants reflect on ways they can apply it. Dr. Carnes discussed the method of asking learners to write a note to themselves about what they learned and how they intend to apply it to their work. She also brought up the idea of using a training transfer certificate instead of a certificate of completion. With this tactic participants do not get credit for the course until they answer a questionnaire or survey three to six weeks after the training.

The common theme of these retention methods is increased, relevant interactivity.

Relapse Prevention

Dr. Carnes concluded the webinar by talking about relapse prevention, which should take place at the end of training. Methods such as conducting a specific and structured group discussion will help avoid loss of knowledge gained. These discussions can include topics about the benefits of using the training, the possible obstacles with applying the training, and ways to overcome those obstacles. This process is similar to what rehab facilities use before they release patients.

By applying these methods to eLearning before, during, and after the learning process, it will be much more likely that participants retain the training and apply it in the workplace.

Do you already use any of these methods for eLearning?

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