Ten Tips to Increase e-Learning Usage

Guest post by Suziana Shukor, Learning & Development Coordinator, Islamic Relief Worldwide

Inspired by recent LINGOs webinar with Dawn Kohler of The Inside Coach on eLearning Effectiveness, Suzi did some research put together Guidelines on How to Increase eLearning Usage for her team of learning Champions and has shared it with the LINGOs Community. This post contains 10 tips from the Guidelines, built from her review of the literature and The Inside Coach session.

1.     Talk to your audience – and share the results

While it would be nice if there were a ‘magic bullet’ that would make hordes of learners flock to online courses, there is no one right answer to the question of how to get users more involved with e-learning.

In fact, the most consistent point that came out of research was the importance of thoroughly understanding your users before figuring out how to ‘sell’ e-learning to them. We must know our target audience before selecting or designing e-learning courses that will appeal to them.

Some simple questions to find out about your users and their needs:

  • What type of computer and internet connection do they have at work and at home
  • Which learning topics are most important to them
  • What time of day they prefer to learn
  • What is their IT proficiency level

Do

Research your audience before launching an e-learning initiative. Give users what they need. Then advertise the fact that they are getting exactly what they asked for.

 Don’t

  Assume you what users what without asking   them.

 

 2.     Pay attention to culture

Surveys and focus groups are good ways to find out what users need, but it’s equally important to understand something much less tangible: an organisation culture. And within a single culture, there are distinct subcultures, many of which develop around job titles. Project workers who are accustomed to competing in their jobs may respond well to games and contests – an approach that may fall flat with IT professionals.

Do

Think long and hard about your organization’s culture and the types of marketing approaches might work with different groups of learners.

Do users appreciate humour and whimsy, or do they want “just the facts”? Do contests and games motivate them, or are they more likely to respond to simple e-mail reminders?

Don’t

Market e-learning the same ways in a “command-and control” environment as you would in a more team-oriented culture.

 

 3.     Be specific in your marketing

One of the most common mistakes people make when marketing e-learning is that promoting the initiative as a whole, rather than what’s in it for them. It’s important to talk with target groups about specific offerings. Mass marketing delivers the strategic message; target marketing is for sending very specific messages.

Target groups based on more than just job titles. Other factors to think about: level within the organisation (e.g. entry level workers, middle managers or executives), location, the language they speak and the extent of their compute knowledge. For example, if you are offering a basic course on using the Windows interface, send an e-mail to a group of computer newbies across all job functions, not to everyone in the organisation.

Craft your messages to answer the “what’s in it for me?” question for each group. If you’re sending an update to upper-level management, include personal comments from other higher-level managers who have seen their employees’ productivity rise as a result of the e-learning initiatives. If you are targeting a group of IT people, include testimonials from IT workers who have received valuable certifications using e-learning. Show how e-learning can give different values to different learners.

Do

Make sure your marketing messages are directed at specific groups of people. Let each group know what’s in it for them.

Don’t

Put all your effort in to mass marketing, leaving learners overwhelmed by a mountain of courses.

4.     Find e-learning champions

One of the keys to increasing e-learning usage is having a few strong advocates who will talk up your initiative. Again, the identity of these champions depends on your organisation’s culture. But no matter who your champions are, they should have the following characteristics:

  •  A genuine, passionate belief in the value of learning. Don’t ask disinterested executive to say a few words at the organisation meeting simply because of his or her rank within the organisation. If your organisation dictates that you must have specific individuals speaking on behalf of the e-learning initiative, do everything you can to bring them on board before they begin promoting the programme.
  • In some cases, your e-learning champions might simply be a talented entry-level employee who’s friendly, articulate and respected by his or her colleagues. If this individual takes an online course and spreads the word about his or her positive experience, it becomes a powerful incentive for the co-workers.

Do

Put some of the marketing onus on users and managers. If they believe in the programme, it’s to their advantage to tell others about it.

 Get users’ stories of how the learning initiative helped them to do their work better to achieve your organization’s mission.

Don’t

Count on e-learning champions to come out of their own without any effort on your part.

 Identify which groups or individuals are most likely to benefit and make sure they understand how online learning will help them.

 5.     Get learners’ managers involved

The most powerful champions or resistors of e-learning are often the learners’ own managers. E-learning may be supported at the highest levels within the organisation and employees may be clamouring for it, but your initiative will go nowhere if front-line managers don’t buy in.

Do

Make sure managers understand the benefits of e-learning so they recommend it to the people who report them.

Provide data from your LMS on employee learning to the learner’s managers.

Share announcements and information on course availability to managers.

Let managers know how their department is doing compared to others in terms of learning resources.

Don’t

Direct your marketing efforts only at learners.

 

Assume managers don’t want to be able to check in with their staff on their learning progess.

 

 6.     Brand your programme

Any company that’s launched a product or service knows that one of the keys to success is branding. When consumers have a positive experience with a certain brand, they’re likely to remember it and to buy it again and again. A branded programme will help learners remember it and go back for more. It’s also likely to give staff the impression that the learning is supported at the highest levels of the organisation.

Do

Brand your e-learning effort – or your training programme as a whole with a logo/animated character and/or consistent typefaces. You’ll provide users with a visual trigger, reminding them that this new flyer or Web Page is related to the one they saw last week.

Don’t

Haphazardly send out communication pieces that look and feel different from each other.

 

 7.     Don’t stop with the launch; keep communicating

While a launch party or other kick-off even can help generate excitement for a new e-learning initiative, that’s only the beginning. Other types of communication methods include: newsletters, e-mails, events etc.

  •  Refresh users’ memories of what they learned at the launch of your program
    • Send a series of emails or
    • post pamphlets/fliers around the work place
  • Send personalised email messages with updated offerings every couple of weeks or once a month, to specific groups.

Do

Keep people engaged long after the kick-off party by regularly informing them of new courses, certifications and services. Also, communicate in a variety of ways, including e-mails, pamphlets, posters, and lunch-and-learn sessions.

Don’t

Overwhelm people with too much e-mail. Weekly or biweekly messages give just enough information without being perceived as “junk.”

 8.     Link learning to outcomes

Research shows that most companies are using a variety of incentives to encourage employees to learn online. However, it usually takes more than a gift or certificates to turn employees into repeat e-learners.  Some ways to add accountability include:

  •  Talking about training expectations during performance appraisals. Many managers already require their employees to complete continuing education or upskilling courses as part of their professional development plans. Build eLearning resources into this education plan.
  • Making e-learning a prerequisite to classroom learning. If your online library includes a course that complements an instructor-led class, require people to take the online class before signing up for the in-person event. Not only does this bring everyone up to speed on the basics before they come into the classroom, allowing you to make the most effective use of the valuable “face-time” with the instructor, but it reminds employees of the valuable eLearning resources available to them 24/7.
  • Offering certification. Offer online courses that lead to highly desired (or required) certifications that will allow the motivated learner to advance within your organization.

Do

Let learners know how important e-learning is by tying courses usage or completion to performance reviews and access to certification.

Don’t

Assume people will take online courses without a “push” from managers.

 

 9.     Give learners enough time and space to do e-learning

In a classroom session, it would be unusual (not to mention rude) for a learner’s manager or co-worker to barge in and ask a quick question or borrow a pen. But when an employee is sitting at his or her desk, quietly staring at the computer screen while typing or clicking, the person’s co-workers don’t know – and, in some cases, don’t care – that he or she may be in the middle of a class. These constant interruptions, as well as, the resulting perception that e-learning is somehow less important and therefore easier to disrupt than classroom learning may discourage people from taking or completing online courses.

One of the best ways to increase e-learning usage is actually one of the simplest. Make sure learners are able to concentrate while they’re taking an online course. There are several ways of doing that, including:

  •  Setting up a separate area for e-learning. Ideally, this would be a designated room for quiet learning. If there is none in your organisation, give some time e.g. afternoon session to enable your staff to learn;
  • Posting visual reminders that someone is “in class”. If your organisation isn’t able to set aside separate e-learning areas away from learners’ desks, make sure people have some way of communicating that they’re taking a course and should not be interrupted. For example: tape a sign “Learning in Progress” to the back of your chair.
  • Forwarding e-mails and calls. If someone is taking an instructor-led course off-site, they wouldn’t be expected to check their e-mail every five minutes, nor would they be required to take phone calls during class. The expectations for e-learning should be no different.
  • Offer your employees an option to take eLearning courses off-site (from home, or another location with internet, either during work-hours or on their own time).

Do

Minimise distractions to learners as much as possible, either by creating a separate learning section or by posting visual symbols in e-learners’ offices to let their colleagues know they’re busy learning.

Don’t

Expect e-learning usage to increase in situations where learners are constantly interrupted by phone calls, e-mail messages and colleagues.

 

10.     Make it easy

From our experience, easy access is crucial because if it is difficult to access to e-learning, staff will be put off. If they have to jump to 10 loops and have to get multiple approvals and long delay, they won’t bother. As such at Learning & Development we have designed a very simple process.

We have also developed a three-piece ‘Managing e-learning courses in your office’ for   e-learning champions which comprise of:

1) Enrolment process for learners

2) Approving courses as LMS Order Manager

3) eCornell process (this resource runs on a separate platform)

Do

Make easy access to learners – don’t make them have to jump over 20 loops.

Make approvals easy for learners – don’t take 3 months to approve one course! Ideally, your local learning champions should be able to do this. So train them.

Limit the number of courses learners can take at one time – if not, you will find 20 courses on your LMS for each learner. Again, local champions will be able to advise learners what courses they should prioritise.

Don’t

Require multiple approvals – remember easy and open access

Assume learners don’t want to learn – if some learners or Country Offices have a low e-learning take up, find out why. Never assume staff is lazy!

Lump all the hundreds of courses on the LMS and expect them to work wonders because you need to “sell” them.

Assume that the best learning technologies can lead to the best learning because they won’t. You will still need to engage with your learners. And that means, folks, sometimes you need to sound less clever so that others can sound cleverer (get rid of that hubris!).

For more insights and tips, read the full Guidelines on How to Increase eLearning Usage.

 

                                                              

Watch the recorded webinar with Dawn Kohler of The Inside Coach

    

Attend the LINGOs 2012 Member Meeting – it’s all   about Engagement

Review   the preliminary agenda

    

Check out the gold medal tips from a learning champion, posted on the blog last summer

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