Although most organizations use e-learning to deliver at least some of their learning portfolio, which practices can help take an organization’s e-learning to the next level and drive business effectiveness?
According to the Association for Talent Development’s (ATD) latest research report, E-learning: The Evolving Landscape, all organizations use e-learning, which refers to asynchronous self-paced learning delivered electronically. ATD’s researchers surveyed 244 talent development professionals from organizations of many different sizes, locations, and industries.
ATD looked at which e-learning practices were used by high-performing organizations—meaning those doing well across several key business metrics and whose talent development functions made strong contributions to organizational performance. One of the top practices associated with high performance was using any combination of branched, personalized, and adaptive e-learning, which is tailored to individual learners.
Branched, personalized, and adaptive e-learning offers opportunities for instructional designers to tailor content to the behaviors, abilities, choices, and preferences of individual learners, making for an experience that is more impactful and engaging. Branched e-learning (used by about half of organizations) sends learners down fixed paths or branches determined by filter or quiz questions. Personalized e-learning (used by about a third of organizations), on the other hand, tailors content to learners’ roles, experiences, preferences, or other factors. Adaptive learning, which less than one in ten organizations use, applies technology (such as artificial intelligence, machine learning, and algorithms) to adapt content in real-time to the learner needs.
Organizations that rely on only static e-learning but want to explore branched, personalized, or adaptive e-learning should look at the transition as a design issue rather than a technological issue, according to Eliza Auckerman, senior project manager for ATD Education. “Think first about the problem the e-learning is meant to solve for the learners and for the organization,” Auckerman says. “Next, think about how you can design content and practice opportunities that meet learners where they are.” Using this approach “allows for flexibility in e-learning and is a great way to start designing a personalized, learner-centric experience.”
Another practice associated with high-performing organizations is to make e-learning accessible to individuals with disabilities. Examples of accessibility features are descriptive links and navigation prompts or closed captioning. The link between designing for accessibility and e-learning’s effectiveness goes beyond preventing “unintentional discrimination,” says Maureen Orey, founder and president of Workplace Learning and Performance Group. “Tools designed to benefit one audience will benefit everyone,” she explains. For example, closed captioning in e-learning may be targeted to employees who are hearing impaired, but other learners will also take advantage of it and benefit from being able to read spoken dialogue in a video.
The report points out that that to fully take advantage of e-learning, an organization’s instructional design staff needs to have up-to-date skills on the latest tools and methods. However, investing in talent development staff skills benefits “the entire employee population” because it provides higher-quality e-learning and learning programs overall, suggests ATD’s Auckerman.