Ask the Experts: Why Is eLearning Important for My Business?
Whether it’s ongoing employee training, specific professional development initiatives or supporting an employee’s earning of an online business degree while they work in a related position, businesses stand to gain on multiple fronts when they support and even propel eLearning opportunities.
The benefits touch businesses of all formats, from medium and enterprise-sized firms to small companies and even the ‘solopreneurs’ and ‘mom-and-pop shops’.
Since the year 2000, the eLearning industry has grown by 900%, as of 2016.
‘For a big portion of the companies surveyed, knowledge translates directly into revenue.’ — Ambient Insight 2012-2014 Worldwide Mobile Learning Market – Executive Report
How much revenue are we talking?
Where Traditional Training Falls Short
‘Traditional’ training consists of in-class training and lessons, presented in a physical classroom, either onsite or at an outside location. Both are equally as inconvenient, simply because this format disrupts major aspects of an employee’s workday. Schedules are thrown out the window.
According to a productivity study by Brandon Hall, eLearning typically requires 40% to 60% less employee time than learning the same material in a traditional classroom:
‘[Learning] can be performed asynchronously and whenever the student needs it; this way workflow is not interrupted. It is important to note that saving time doesn’t affect learning quality; it’s actually quite the opposite.’ — SH!FT
Physical presence demanded in the classroom, coupled with the amount of learning material and time to actually study these materials significantly affects how quickly employees can ‘bounce back’ when they return to work.
Take it from Gloria Mark, a researcher who studies digital distraction at the University of California, Irvine: It takes an average of about 25 minutes to return to the original task, once there has been an interruption. According to Cal Newport, ‘deep work’ requires ‘deep focus’, which is a state that only really lasts for about 90 minutes. The maximum number of 90 minute periods you can really manage in a day without being a workaholic is about three to four.
You do the math.
Think about a jet getting off the runway: It takes about 60% of its fuel to become airborne. The human mind is exactly like that. Once it has ascended, it can coast.
Theory and no practice
Even with in-class seminars that encourage and incorporate ‘breakout’ sessions or group work, the quality and depth of learning are perfunctory, at best.
Why? Because most training, lectures, seminars and presentations involve the speaker, instructor or trainer putting forth information. Any further ‘homework’ or chance to practice what has been taught is now a matter of the individual’s time and personal motivation to follow through.
Practice is not really woven into the traditional classroom format because the classroom is meant for instruction, not application.
A mix of learners
In any training setting, you’re bound to come across a combination of learning styles and perspectives. That’s true whether it’s an online course or offline training. However, differences become starker and pronounced when it comes to experience levels.
In other words, in a physical training or class, some individuals may already have a broad or expert level of experience in the subject matter or an aspect of the training. For them, it’s an utter waste of time, causing them to feel even more bored and disconnected.
But increase the level of difficulty or complexity, and small businesses conversely risk alienating those employees who are actually still learning.
How does a business sever this Gordian knot?
Courses as part of an online business degree, for example, can be chosen by the employees themselves, commensurate with their knowledge.
And, after all, the digital learning experience is, mostly, also a self-paced learning experience. This means that, even in a course or training targeted at the broadest swath of individuals, going from least complex to most complex lessons, employees who are also students can choose to ‘skip’ or ‘skim’ and refresh their learning but not be exposed to hours of monotonous explanation.
Connecting to ‘So what?’
The most impactful moment of learning — that ‘Aha!’ moment — occurs when a student is able to link their learning to something they’re experiencing in their everyday lives, work settings or can apply it in a practical manner to solve an immediate problem.
For businesses, the big ‘So what?’ can be clear and quantifiable ROIs (which we’ll expand on in a moment):
For employees who are students, the ‘So what?’ has to link to an achievable or applicable task that is solved, directly related to the learning that they undertook. Even more pressing, this applicability cannot wait until the end of a course. To really hit the concept home, the student must pick it up and master it before moving on to the next concept.
eLearning essentially allows this incremental form of learning-and-practice, allowing employees to take what they have learned, apply it, and then return to learning on their own time.
The Positive Impact of eLearning for Businesses
1) Ongoing learning
Small businesses are often lean, mean, productivity machines. Even as they grow in breadth and expertise, they may choose to keep their costs low and their team as ‘pruned’ as possible — without overwhelming employees.
To do this, businesses often hire employees who are skilled enough to demonstrate expertise in multiple areas. Or else, they employ individuals who have the willingness and intrinsic motivation to learn different aspects of a job.
Taking online training and courses towards a degree helps promote an employee’s ongoing learning so they can contribute in more ways to this kind of ‘lean’ environment. Students can learn on their own time, aligning their project goals to their study concepts.
2) Delighting customers
Learning a skill or taking a course in a complementary area doesn’t have to mean operating in that area. Often, simply knowing and empathising is enough.
This is especially important in ‘customer-centric’ operations. Think about a marketing automation project, for example, that needs the marketing team to create a funnel but the sales team to actually be aware of all the points of conversion in the funnel.
When it comes to delighting customers, it works best when two or more departments can actually collaborate and communicate, using one common language. This means that each team is aware of the other’s needs and issues. Taking a course in that area can often help with this. Meanwhile, all the customer sees is a seamless approach, a business unit moving as one.
3) Integrating skill sets and expanding knowledge
Which leads us to integrating skill sets and expanding one’s knowledge. Online business degrees touch on multiple skill sets, often adding a tech, programming, design thinking and even marketing component. Students can also choose to specialise — but the power of eLearning is that the choice to do so is in their hands.
And so is the actual process of learning.
It’s no secret — nor a surprise — that the digital workplace is increasingly moving towards integration. Even as consumers, we see the effects of integration through phenomena like IoT and omnichannel marketing.
For employees looking to gain an expanding breadth of knowledge and perform more effectively on a project, this can mean adding skills to their compendium. So, a data scientist would benefit from a design course featuring working with the Adobe Suite so he or she can actually then visualise and beautifully model that data.
A customer service specialist would benefit from social media marketing training to be able to serve more individuals on multiple social channels, respond to queries and actually engage with customers.
4) Increased productivity
Ever heard of the link-hole? It’s this insidious place employees are prone to fall into when they go searching for an answer to an otherwise easy question.
Easy, of course, if they had the correct training or, at least, the courses to be able to search for information relating to that question.
Effective online training eliminates hours of productive time wasted searching online for answers to questions that are otherwise floating in a vast sea of information. Instead, of trying to first perform these searches and then aggregate the answers into a cogent body of knowledge, eLearning allows students to access potential resources relating that that question right away.
5) Employee retention
Let’s put it this way: It’s in every small business’s interest to actively invest in ongoing online training, whether those are one-off courses or a series of courses leading to a certificate or even an online business degree.
Why? Because employees who are not provided training opportunities are more likely to find new jobs,’ says the Harvard Business Review.
Online courses allow that ongoing learning we were talking about, but it also allows employees to constantly be able to access courses, always setting themselves a challenge to work towards.
This, in turn, fosters a culture of continuous learning and development opportunities, which then helps employees to feel more invested and connected — not only in their roles but also to the company and the way it conducts its business.
6) Employee engagement
Loyalty and rewards programs, performance-based incentives and gamification on projects: These are all smart techniques businesses of the future are embracing to boost employee engagement. Because, the truth is, disengaged employees hurt more than the ‘bottom line’ — they have a negative effect on overall, internal workplace culture.
So, despite these attempts, according to a Gallup poll on employee engagement, only 13% to 30% of employees are ‘engaged’, while anywhere from 52% to 70% are disengaged.
No doubt, these are great techniques, but they’re quite incentive-based. They don’t encourage, in and of themselves, employees to derive any real satisfaction based on qualitative factors. These are answers to questions like, ‘Does my job really challenge me?’, ‘Am I growing in my learning and personal development through the work I do?’, ‘Am I really satisfied?’, and, ‘Could I be doing better or more?’
These questions lead to an inevitable ‘itch’. eLearning helps employees remain engaged by:
- Providing 24/7 access to training materials, so there is continuous learning while on the job
- Promoting real-time collaboration with co-workers also engaged in the same learning
- Tying learning goals to project objectives and priorities
- Making learning creative, through the use of multiple forms of media and types of content
- Fostering a learning culture that says it’s ‘O.K.’ to ‘fail’ or get the answer wrong — learning and competency is an ongoing and open-format process
When employees are learning, they’re suddenly invested and empowered through more than just monetary perks. They’re motivated because they have the chance to contribute to something bigger than themselves.
This is a more profound, more emotional form of engagement that is far more powerful and long-lasting.
Online courses and digital learning opportunities essentially make learning a very personalised undertaking. Even if the content is dripped out (i.e. not all available at once), students still have the choice to pace the course according to their knowledge, on their own time.
Ultimately, the proof is in the pudding: Businesses should also craft a plan to measure the ROI of eLearning and learn for themselves how their organisations shift as a result.