Realistic E-Learning: Better Than Reality TV


Although we’re overflowing with reality TV, do we have sufficient doses of realism in eLearning?

The purpose of eLearning in the workplace is to improve and enhance job performance. So workplace learning should include the type of real-world content that prepares an audience for the varied situations that arise during work.

No Prepared Script


While at work, events don’t occur according to a planned script. How can formal training prepare employees for unexpected problems, troubleshooting and the inconsistencies that arise from dealing with complexity?

For example, how can an online course help someone handle an employee crisis, deal with an irate customer or fix a crashed server? With no prepared script to follow, we must help learners prepare for the unknown.

Here’s what a learner is expected to do after training:

  • Analyze a problem to determine it’s salient characteristics
  • Find commonalities between the problem at hand and what they have learned
  • Identify broad abstract concepts that solved the problem in a training context
  • Apply and adapt the most useful concepts to the current problem

What we’re looking for here is positive learning transfer.

Positive Learning Transfer

In positive learning transfer, what a person learns in one situation (whether through formal or informal learning) enhances his or her knowledge and ability in another situation. The difficulty for learning architects is that in novel situations, many of the variables are unpredictable.

How to Empathize with Workplace Realities

Observation and Informal Chats. The best way to understand the types of problems that potential learners experience is to get in touch with their work environment. I’ve spent time at a muffler repair franchise, customer service call center and an HIV laboratory, to name a few. The type of information that emerges from informal conversations and observations in the work environment are enlightening.

Beware that you may run into a tough spot in your zeal to spend informal time with employees. In some organizations, high-level management may not want you to chat with audience members. Although this is a self-defeating approach for the organization, there often isn’t much you can do about it.

Use formal surveys and interviews. In addition to workplace observation, it’s helpful to take a formal approach to gathering  information by using surveys and questionnaires, running focus groups and interviewing sample members of the targeted audience and their managers.

When it’s impossible to get on-site and directly into the work environment, telephone interviews are another option. If you’re not allowed to contact audience members, you’ll have to make do with interviewing supervisors only. This way, you’ll get at least half of the picture.

Additional research. If you can’t get access to the audience members or their supervisors, make attempts to research the field, read about it and imagine yourself doing what your audience members do everyday.

The more you can imagine what work is like from the learner’s perspective, the more realistic and effective your courses will be. This type of attitude should improve positive learning transfer.

How do you get a realistic sense of a workplace environment? Comment below.


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