eLearning Demystified

What do adaptive technology, competency-based education, personalized learning, microlearning and the flipped classroom all have in common? They are all terms being used in eLearning today to describe different teaching strategies. At times they can sound like jargon, but each one describes a technique that is being used to meet the learning needs of today’s employees.

Learning has become a life-long process. Employees need to keep up with rapidly changing information about products and technology, but often lack the time to invest in learning. Corporations face the challenge of providing training to a diverse and potentially geographically distributed workforce. Increasingly, employers are concerned that their new hires lack communication and critical thinking skills. In addition, there is growing pressure to measure and show ROI for all professional learning.

The glossary below describes current learning techniques and gives a brief synopsis of how each one can be used to meet these challenges:

1) Adaptive Learning (Also called Personalized or Individualized Learning): Unlike a classroom with one instructor who often provides the same lecture to all students regardless of their learning needs, adaptive platforms can more easily adjust the level and type of instruction to each individual student. Learning can be tailored based on prior knowledge, gaps in understanding, strengths, interests, goals, and learning styles. Adaptive technologies range from simple, rule-based systems that depend on content knowledge, to more sophisticated systems taking into account learning styles. This technique can be used to vary what content is presented, to change how and in what order it is presented, and to provide personalized help such as hints or feedback to the learner.

2) Competency-Based Learning (CBL): CBL allows students to learn at their own pace. This is helpful for learners who want to move more slowly or more quickly due to their levels of comprehension, time constraints, and personal preferences. CBL requires clearly defined competencies and the ability to measure the mastery of those competencies. Students are given lots of feedback along the way. Learners advance once they demonstrate their mastery of a given competency. CBL often requires learners to demonstrate not just that they know something, but also that they know how to apply it.

3) Flipped Classroom: The flipped classroom is so named because it flips the way instruction is done. In a traditional classroom, the instructor provides content to the student in the form of a lecture, and then gives the students homework that often applies the concepts learned. Students work on their homework or application exercises on their own, without benefit of the instructor’s help if they get stuck. In the flipped classroom, students learn basic material independently from instruction presented through online systems. This frees the instructor to use class time to support students in the application of the concepts they have learned, clear up any misconceptions, and delve deeper into the material. The flipped classroom allows instructors to spend less time teaching basic information and more on higher order thinking skills and application of knowledge.

4) Gamification: Employees are sometimes lacking motivation to complete required training. Gamification can be used to add fun to eLearning and increase employee engagement.Gamification includes the use of points, badges and leaderboards, often shared over social media. Competition increases engagement and gives a sense of where learners are in relationship to their peers. This is a helpful strategy to encourage employees to use an eLearning site, to encourage information sharing, and to promote community building.

5) Just-in-Time Learning: Traditional corporate training involved long classroom sessions in which new employees learned everything they needed to know for their jobs, and then started to work and apply their training. This type of training tended to be very inefficient, and the employees often could not retain more than a fraction of what they learned. Just-in-Time Learning refers to the technique of allowing learners to pull what they want, when they need it on the job, rather than having employers push out a scheduled training that may not meet employees’ specific needs. Employers are saved the expense of long training sessions, and employees have more agency and are better able to learn and retain the information required for their jobs.

6) Kirkpatrick Levels: Kirkpatrick Levels refers to a system of measuring ROI that was developed by Don Kirkpatrick in the 1950s. Until recently, the main tool employers used to measure learning was an opinion survey given to the learners at the conclusion of the training. Increasingly, employers want clear evidence of skill acquisition, behavior change, and business results. There are four Kirkpatrick Levels used to assess these outcomes. Level 1 is "Reaction", which is the equivalent of the old opinion surveys. Level 2 is "Learning", which requires assessing knowledge and skills acquired during the training. Level 3 is "Behavior", which requires measuring how well the employees apply their learning on the job. Level 4 is "Results", which involves measuring the effect of the training on outcomes such as increased customer satisfaction and employee retention, reduced employee turnover, and additional revenue per full-time employee.

7) Microlearning: Strategically organizing content can make the learning process quick and effective. Microlearning is bite-sized learning chunks of five minutes or less. It increases learning efficiency by allowing employers to deliver only the most important information so that employees can fit short lessons into a busy schedule. It is often used in "just-in-time" learning as it easily allows employees to choose to view only the information they need, and to access it at the time they need it. Breaking content up into smaller pieces can also aid in retention.

8) Mobile First: Mobile First means designing a learning experience that is optimized for mobile devices. Often learning that is designed for a desktop or laptop is frustrating or impossible to use on a mobile device. Mobile learning has the advantage that employees can learn on-the-go. It is particularly useful for presenting product features in videos and animations, which can be shared with customers.

9) Serious Games: Serious Games is a term used for games that have an educational purpose. It often refers to simulations, which are role-play activities that allow the learner to step into the role of the character and make decisions for that character. Simulations help bridge the gap from learning to applying concepts in the real-world.The virtual environment allows learners to make mistakes and learn from them while limiting the risks. Simulations are often used as a way to promote and measure critical thinking skills. They can be designed to be played more than once, so users can get additional practice and leverage their learning.

Taken together, these strategies provide a way to decrease the amount of time learning takes, while increasing learner retention and application of concepts. Employers are saved from the expense of providing often ineffective one-size-fits-all training. Through the use of eLearning, employees receive individually tailored instruction which enables them to learn on the job, when the information is most relevant. Learners are kept engaged and motivated through social learning, interactive media, role-playing, and friendly competition. These techniques help employees learn and retain the material, give them a way to engage in critical thinking, and allow them opportunities to apply what they have learned.