Choosing The Most Effective Online Learning Format for Employees

Over the millenniums, learning formats have evolved, changing the process by which people develop skills. Hundreds of years ago, skills were almost exclusively developed through apprenticeship, which involved one-on-one mentoring, on-the-job training, and a deliberate work schedule.

Synchronous Learning

In the late 1800s, the industrial revolution catalyzed the emergence of the public school system. Once again, education hinged on mentorship and structure – this time in a group setting led by a teacher. In synchronous learning environments, learners digest the same information at the same time via an instructor with specialized knowledge, training, and experience.

The problem:

Synchronous learning formats can be expensive to build and maintain and slow to adapt to change, making accessibility, affordability, and relevancy a particularly difficult balancing act. Additionally, they depend heavily on having an exceptional instructor and offer very little personalization for learners. All students consume the same content at the same pace, which can result in equity issues.

Asynchronous Learning

In the early 2000s, e-learning attempted to make education more accessible and affordable by eliminating live instruction and hosting coursework online. Instead of a classroom setting, participants follow “learning pathways” independently at their own pace (asynchronously) across a patchwork of online content.

The problem:

Asynchronous learning formats tend to favor self-motivated, self-sufficient learners over those who need extra support – once again creating accessibility and equity issues. Many individuals do not perform well in independent learning environments without accountability controls, mentorship, or guidance. To counteract the lack of peer/mentor interaction, programs offer a plethora of content and resources (usually publicly authored) – often without enough context. Learners spend a lot of time sitting and watching rather than doing and collaborating, which leads to lower levels of engagement and comprehension.

Blended Learning

Blended learning platforms attempt to fix the shortfalls of async learning by bringing instruction and peer interaction back into the learning experience. This format introduces more guidance and group activities while preserving a degree of individualized pacing, resulting in higher cognitive engagement, accountability, and completion rates.

The problem:

Blended programs represent the best of both learning formats, but the format alone  is not enough to ensure outcomes. Organizations need to fortify programs with engaging, relevant content, quality mentorship, and collaborative learning environments. When done properly, completion rates are significantly higher. However, blended learning programs require more buy-in, ownership, and participation from enterprise leaders.

Tactical vs. Transformative Change

As depicted above, learning and development leaders have a spectrum of delivery options when structuring a training program. Which is best for your organization depends on the type of change your organization hopes to achieve – tactical or transformative.

Tactical Change 

With tactical change, training aims to expand an existing foundation of skills or bridge a few specific skill gaps. Typically, tactical change is not viewed as “urgent”, allowing participants to complete training on their own timeline.

Transformative Change

With transformative change, the goal of training is to develop entirely new capabilities with little or no prior foundation. Typically, transformative change is needed more urgently, requiring that participants adhere to a schedule to ensure timely progress.

As needs move from tactical toward transformative change, self-paced learning becomes less effective, and more structure and guidance are required for learner success.

These are the larger questions we help enterprise partners ask and answer before building internal upskilling/reskilling programs for employees. By defining your training objectives early on, we ensure that your investment in technical education yields high-value results.

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