Did anyone ask if you wanted email?

At my last post The Effectiveness of Learning – Ready Set Go (Part 2) which discussed the implementation of e-learning, I mentioned I’d write next about a implementation that was surprisingly and refreshingly simple.

For many years there has been discussion about the optimal way to go about introducing e-learning into an organisation.  There have been many consulting hours spent working through “e-Learning Readiness” checklists and so on.

Part of the preparatory work is to gain learner acceptance of e-learning , but the effort required to ensure acceptance depends a great deal practical considerations and on the way in which stakeholder expectations and risks are managed against the level of sophistication of the following key organisational engredients:

  • Human Resource availability
  • Adequate technology
  • Defined business processes
  • Learning integrity measures
  • Sustainable business outcomes and alignment
  • Continuous improvement

A great deal of time and effort is commonly spent pondering these issues and, in particular, speculating the likely reaction that learners may have towards the use of e-learning.

I have seen very successful implementations proceed where planning seems to have been excessive with much time spent obtaining the “buy-in” of learners prior to the release of e-learning.

On the other hand, I have witnessed the rapid execution of detailed plans with minimal effort taken to ”sell” the use of e-learning  to potential learners, and with outstanding success.  In one particular case we simply approached this aspect of implmentation of e-learning with the argument “ no-body asked me if I wanted to use e-mail!”  In that organisation e-learning was accepted without question, without debate.  People just got on with it.  No fuss, no trouble.

Badly managed expectations about learning technology is usually the more serious issue. Did anyone ask if you wanted email?


  1. Good comments Bob. Perhaps one of the reasons elearning or other technologies for that matter can be implemented “without fuss” is that the technologies are intuitive. I can barely recall the first email system I used and i think that’s because it wasn’t a difficult system to use – so I don’t have vivid recollections associated with great pain as I do with things like Professor DOS (remember that??). I just didn’t get how it worked!

    When the technology just works, and the need is geat – ie we need to communicate with many and quickly as with email – adoption happens. When the need is uncertain and the technology is cumbersome – like some early elearning programs – resistance is the order of the day. Nearly ay amount of planning and analysis won’t compensate for poor design.

    Perhaps elearning still hasn’t got that compelling need email enjoyed? Perhaps elearning hasn’t revolutionised learning the way email revolutionised communication?

  2. I agree with Peter around poor design. I think that the quality and relevance of content as well as design of e-learning plays a huge part in how easy it is to accept this type of learning within an organisation. Integrating new technology or systems is the relatively easy bit, it’s changing people and perceptions that’s the hard bit.

    Setting expectations and finding the right balance in using elearning is key. You wouldn’t want all your communications to be done via email, similarly you wouldn’t all your learning to be done via elearning. It will be successful if it’s

    > used as part of the blend
    > deployed well with engaging content
    > seen by employees as adding value

  3. Spot on Mike – particularly your point around “adding value”. One of the key reasons for the massive success of email was that the value and benefits to people were immediate and obvious. One to one and one to many communication became “rapid”. Time lost through mail systems disappeared. Remote conversations began!

    Where are the breakthroughs with elearning? While the ‘promises’ were things like learning at your fingertips and rapidly distributed learning, the reality has been more like “page turning interruptions to daily work” (there’s that poor design point again). Return on investment discussions focus more on dollars saved against traditional training methods rather than user productivity, speed of decision making etc.

    But I think more importantly in this is that elearning, unlike email, has in many ways failed to integrate itself with work. Much elearning still tries to impose a traditional learning model – objectives, content, assessment – into work. Apart from not having to attend a class somewhere, there’s not a lot of upside for the worker. In fact the result of elearning ‘imposing’ itself as traditional learning into the workplace environment can be a very negative experience.

    When elearning is integrated with work in such a way that it is seamless to the point the learner can’t differentiate between learning and working, then we may see the uptake and the enormous impacts email enjoyed.

    Will social media, as a new oin the job technology to support learning and working, have the same seamless introduction as email I wonder?

  4. Thanks for comments.

    My point in drawing the analogy with email was that I have observed situations when there has been too much wasted effort poured into “change management” endeavours to prepare people for and to enable the acceptance of e-learning. Sometimes a minimalist approach works better. My recollection of my introduction to email was very minimalist and it worked very well.

    The point Mike and Peter reinforce about quality of design is totally valid and, at the end of the day, is key to not only the acceptance of e-learning but the value it provides. Unfortunately, in many cases, scant regard is placed on quality learning design (I don’t like the term “instructional design” – see The Effectiveness of Learning – Deleting “Instruction“). Also, in many cases, learners and the conditions in which we expect them to learn are not taken into account either – see The Effectiveness of Learning – Design by Respect.

    That said, there is no doubt in my mind that as the merging of learning, work becomes more recognised and accepted, and we stop trying to treat them as separate things, the structured nature of a lot of e-learning we see now will give way to it’s transformation as performance support, and yes, integrated within work itself.

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