How to Solve one of the Biggest eLearning Challenges

Demand for online learning has grown by 900% in just over 20 years, and not just because of the Covid-19 pandemic. But while online classrooms for younger students have made more headlines, adult and employee learning has been a key driver of this growth.

That’s because the global talent shortage is astonishingly large, with the cost of that gap in tech alone accounting for $8.5 trillion in lost revenue. It’s no wonder demand for professional eLearning is increasing as more and more professionals look for ways to develop their skills and careers.

But the reality on the ground is that the potential of eLearning to dramatically improve everything from upskilling to networking hasn’t been fully realized. That’s why the question facing the industry now is how they can maximize the value they provide to learners while improving key metrics like retention.

The Importance of Mentorship and Personalization

The most important element here is time. Course participants need to keep up the momentum of their development after a course has been completed to reinforce their newly acquired learnings. After all, students forget about 40% of the year’s learning over summer breaks and this same information loss can apply to adult learners as well.

Looking towards models more designed for adult learners, the 70-20-10 model stands out. The research behind this learning development model points towards the need to break down learning into roughly:

  • 70% of their knowledge from job-related experiences,
  • 20% from interactions with others, like coworkers and managers,
  • 10% from formal learning events.

Unfortunately, the social aspect of learning that should make up 20% tends to falter in eLearning environments. This is because the kind of natural connections that happen when students are around each other not just during classes but before and after is difficult to replicate online.

Creating a way to engage course participants after their formal training is over can help them apply the learnings, exchange with others and guide themselves towards sustainable, independent application in the long term. But doing that requires going beyond the usual discussion boards and chat tools we’ve been using for decades.

The Problems with Discussion Boards and Chat Tools

These old tools are fairly good at enabling students to do things like ask and answer questions. What they are not good at, on the other hand, is creating memorable connections and a sense of belonging. Reading text posted by small avatars which hardly feel like real people simply isn’t an effective way to feel like you’re in a community.

Then there’s the “bystander effect”, a psychological phenomenon where people are less likely to step in to help someone when there are other people present. So when an individual in the group needs help, being in an impersonal discussion board or chat room lessens the likelihood of them getting support from others.

On top of those challenges are the issues with moderation and maintenance. Moderators need to be constantly cleansing channels because they don’t want people who took a course 5 years ago to crowd the channel while not actively participating (and worsening the bystander effect). If you’re using a tool like Slack, paying for all of those extra seats can also quickly get expensive.

But even with free tools like Facebook groups, the challenges of management and relevancy over time remain. Not to mention the declining use of Facebook and many similar social media platforms, meaning many potential participants may not be willing or able to join a group there.

The result is that these places too often feel like spaces you go to only because it’s required, not because you think you’ll get real value out of the time spent there. That’s, in part, because these spaces don’t lend themselves to the most impactful kind of connections: one-to-ones.

Why 1:1 Connections Have a Greater Impact

Any look at the criteria used to evaluate educational institutions will show that the industry has long prized small class sizes. That’s not exactly surprising, as the kind of individual attention and connection you can develop in those environments makes them more effective places to learn (something further backed by the aforementioned 70 20 10 model).

But the unfortunate reality is that while eLearning options expanded vastly during the pandemic, that new diversity of options is not being used to its full potential. This is because learners worldwide are more often than not taking a course asynchronously before being thrown into a common channel and expected to interact there. This is hardly a recipe for success.

Contrast the feeling of being thrown into a Slack room filled with the sound of crickets to a targeted 1:1 meeting. Sitting down and discussing the topics/challenges of an eLearning course with the right partner has the potential to dramatically improve learning outcomes. But to understand how, let’s break down the three main benefits these kinds of connections offer.

They’re More Targeted*

The asterisk here is because they aren’t always targeted, but they can be with the right tool. That said, today’s AI-driven technology can easily match people based on what they already know, what they need to know, the challenges they’re facing, and more. 

So instead of getting thrown into a Zoom room with a stranger and told to “talk about your class” participants enter with an agenda. They already know what they have in common and what kinds of experiences or challenges they should discuss.  This also enables instructors to see what topics their students are actually interested in and getting value from.

They’re More Inclusive

The sad reality is that it’s far more difficult for many people to fully participate in larger group discussions. People who are more shy or introverted will often lose out, missing benefits their more extroverted colleagues gain from active participation. Add to that different timezones making participation more difficult for some and it’s no wonder single large discussion groups can be so ineffective.

You can also consider the fact that while one person’s shared experience might be tremendously beneficial for some, inevitably it’s not going to be relevant for others. Targeted 1:1 meetings are more efficient at getting the right information and experiences to the right people without forcing everyone else to watch from the sidelines.

Lastly, these smaller meetings offer a greater ability to create stronger individual bonds that will carry through to life and careers. These life-changing connections are one of the greatest benefits offered by traditional universities, and 1:1 meetings can offer them through eLearning, vastly expanding their impact.

They’re (Ironically) More Scalable

When you think about personalized 1:1 connections, the word “scalable” probably doesn’t come to mind. Yet, when AI is capable of finding the right people, the right topics, and even scheduling the meetings at the best times for both participants, you get a surprisingly scalable system.

Don’t Discount Small Groups

For all the benefits 1:1 sessions offer, small groups are another powerful way to connect learners and improve their experiences. These can be study groups with specific instructions, meetups, discussions, etc. Together, these offer another way to get learners to practice and engage with the content they’re learning while also providing another way to build professional networks.

Like with 1:1 connections, however, the challenge is organizing these group sessions and ensuring they’re effective. Using automatic tools to fit meetups into everyone’s schedule, poll participants to learn what worked and what didn’t, and incorporate learnings into new groups in the future makes an enormous difference in combating issues like low attendance or engagement.

Enhance Your eLearning

The good news is that you don’t need to build your own custom system to access all the benefits of tailored 1:1 connections and small group meetups for enhancing the impact of eLearning. If you’d like to learn more about how this works in practice or ask any questions you may have, book a demo with an expert who will provide you with answers.

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