eLearning has developed significantly in recent years, transforming the way in which knowledge is imparted to learners. Modern Learners want relevant, customized content that they can access on their own terms. With good provision, online learning can significantly enhance the learning experience however there are also some eLearning challenges posed by virtual solutions that L&D must navigate carefully. The following guide is a must read for all those professionals tasked with delivering impactful learning solutions in the digital age. 

The key challenges of eLearning that are usually voiced are the following:
1. Motivation and Engagement
2. Technology
3. Content design
4. Reward and Reflection
5. Application

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1. Motivation and Engagement

Motivation and engagement are the key barriers that most critics voice about eLearning. Specifically, when considering the online environment there are plenty of examples of attempts at eLearning where we see that learners may engage quickly at the beginning but soon drop off.

Indeed, for many providers eLearning is like a form of gym membership. It is easy to subscribe, you know it is going to make you healthier or more knowledgeable and yet completion rates are low.

However, eLearning has vastly developed in the last ten years and let’s not pretend that every learner in a physical classroom environment has always been thoroughly engaged.

Just to sit through a class to the end of the term is not enough, you must prove acquisition too. Using a combination of educative methodologies, technology and best practice in content and design, eLearning is now a more than viable way to train people in a range of areas.

2. Technology

Knowing how to best utilize technology is one of the key challenges of eLearning, unsurprisingly. For years we have been making do with rudimentary platforms with limited functionality, disabling the creating learning process for both the educator and the learner.

Ideally, eLearning should be underpinned not only by good pedagogy but also with good technology.

Firstly, eLearning platforms should not be fundamentally different from the best practice in website course design. For example, clear, structured and logical navigation is essential so learners can easily find their way around the program. Confusing navigation, too many pages, too many clicks or too few, can impede the learning experience.

Frustration through not knowing how to return to a homepage or to part of the course you were on, can easily disenfranchise learners. Even small things, like the ease of being able to reset a password (and how many do we have to remember nowadays?!) can assist in the way a user interacts with the software.

Good designers of eLearning platforms use best practices in web design to constantly and test and improve on the technological functionality of platforms. It wasn’t very long ago that eLearning was assumed to be a desktop computer exercise. Nowadays we can interact with learning software on myriad devices that are supported 24/7.

The exponential advancement of new technology is giving content curators even more bows to their quiver. Purakyastha in Forbes details how the emergence of AI, Blockchain and Immersive computing will allow learners to learn faster, better an deeper than ever.

Whilst we have some way to go before asynchronous learning is as engaging as a blended-method, it is improving constantly. 

Further reading

Corporate Learning in the Digital Age – an Interview with Xavier Durochat, Head of Learning at BNP Paribas

Top 10 2019 Training Trends

3. Content Design

Templates

The engagement of learners in content-heavy courses is one of the most difficult challenges of eLearning. It is not that different from the physical teaching and learning space: nobody wants to be bored by uninteresting content.

There will always be parts of courses, irrespective of the learner’s own interest in the topic, that are a bit arduous. These can be because they are intricate theoretical concepts, an area the learner doesn’t enjoy and so the activity becomes a chore,  or that they just don’t translate well into engaging learning content.

Therefore, good eLearning templates are an essential part of ensuring best practice in online learning.

Before now, providers used online learning platforms as a tool to simply upload content for the digestion of the students. Often, they were verbose, lengthy and unimaginative, both in terms of written content and in terms of layout.

Moreover, the same templates were used across a range of disciplines, meaning that language content would be molded into a template that was the same as for a history course. Soft skills courses were using the same templates as business courses and a marketing course layout looked strikingly like a communication skills course.

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Now, there are providers that have debunked the stereotypes of the old Learning Management Systems and can show through key metrics that learners need a balance of structure and freedom.

Learning paths

A structured learning path is necessary when acquiring knowledge, but it does not have to be linear and it does not have to be a facsimile of a textbook. On the contrary, best practice in online learning platforms demonstrate that bite-sized learning, personalized learning paths and authentic materials are key.  

Such practice can engage the learner in a way that face-to-face group classroom environments often can´t. Of course, it is not enough to just create engaging content. It is also about how you show it, how content links to navigation and how relevant it is to the subject matter.

Aesthetics

Thus, we come to the matter of aesthetics. Again, just like with websites, how information is presented is key to ensuring engagement.

As Jorge Reyna in his article “The Importance of Visual Design and Aesthetics in eLearning” (2013) reminds us, ‘The digital aspects of aesthetics and design are not limited to photos or graphics displayed on a screen, but include methods of deliberately arranging elements to appeal to the senses or emotions of the user, or the act of creating something that does not exist’. 

Logical, pertinent and well-positioned graphics and colors not only look pleasing but can also help with how a learner engages and consumes with the content. 

After all, learners have a lot of choices nowadays when it comes to learning platforms. It is likely that first impression credibility will be ascertained on aesthetics before the actual content.

Take as an example online language learning with long pieces of text, lacking images, and an unimaginative color scheme. It will probably not keep the learner engaged and perhaps be akin to a mathematical textbook from the last century.

Therefore, how information is presented is inextricably linked to navigation. Reyna goes on to say, ‘Visual design and aesthetics have a great impact on how users perceive information, learn, judge credibility and usability, and ultimately assign value to an online product. It has a role in enhancing and supporting teaching, but it is often implemented less than professionally in online learning’.

Best practice is therefore in ensuring that there is engaging content and design with clear and logical navigation.

Further reading

Corporate Learning in the Digital Age – an Interview with Xavier Durochat, Head of Learning at BNP Paribas

Top 10 2019 Training Trends

4. Reward and reflection

Ensuring that reward is part of the eLearning strategy is another of the main challenges of eLearning. Again, we have moved on from the text-heavy platforms of the past and irrespective of how education is delivered, feedback and reward is a clear way to ensure engagement.

Best practice in eLearning would suggest platforms that allow learners to give feedback as well as receive it, are much more engaging. Akin to the instant reward of a like on a Facebook page post, instantaneous feedback ensures learners continue to the next part of their course and return to interact with it again and again.

Reward such as feedback, even when automated, can make a difference to how the learner feels; it is not just about pressing the ‘next page’ button to get to the next piece of content.

The human touch

Community forums and peer-to-peer feedback coupled with inventive technology mean that we don’t need our learner peers to be sat next to us for us to have an enjoyable and interactive experience.

We also need to get away from the assumption that eLearning is about engaging with a non-human entity. One good eLearning strategy that solves many challenges of eLearning is humanizing the digital learning environment. This may be through synchronous sessions, applying acquired knowledge and ensuring contextual understanding.

Live sessions give plenty of opportunity for feedback and good provision will allow for educator feedback after the session too. Technology does not have to replace the teacher; it can enhance the experience for both the trainer and the learner.

Part of reward and feedback is also ensuring learners have a chance to reflect on their learning and their progress. After all, passivity hinders learner engagement.

The chance for learners to review their own progress by seeking metrics to support their journey, by being able to choose whether they redo an exercise they found difficult or to revise past content, are all ways that learners can be masters of their own learning journey.

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5. Application

This is the main reason that most learners take on a course, whether online or face-to-face. People will take a course for probably because it is a topic of interest or relevance to their career. Of course, most learners wish to be able to put their newly acquired knowledge or skills into practice.

It is not just about immediate impact but also about long-term achievement and application. For example, consider the secondary skills acquired when learning a language in a virtual group. Alongside learning the target language, one can learn the skills of working in virtual teams, cultural communication techniques and diplomacy.

Being able to familiarize the mind to learning in a virtual or digital environment suddenly empowers the learner to be able to learn anywhere on any device. This comfortability will undoubtedly help with impactful learning and successful knowledge application.

Review of the solutions

When considering the above, the challenges of eLearning are often not that much different from the typical classroom environment. In fact, with good provision, it can only enhance the learning experience.

Here are the top things to look out for when looking at eLearning platforms:

  • Technology that enables learners to interact across different devices, where and where they wish
  • Good navigation
  • Pedagogy that aligns to personalized learning paths, bite-sized learning
  • The content is presented well and in an engaging manner, using graphics, pictures, and colors to make information easier to consume
  • Metrics to support progress and feel rewarded
  • The ability to receive and proffer feedback
  • A humanized approach, even in a digital world