As global companies assess the impact of COVID-19 (coronavirus) outbreak on everything from business travel to supply chain management, another disruption is emerging that few have anticipated: in-person training. Companies worldwide are beginning to prioritize eLearning in the face of the outbreak.

As organizations continue to cancel in-person meetings and training sessions, the corporate learning and development (L&D) team has the opportunity to consider how to migrate classroom training to eLearning platforms. While having people review training materials online does address the contagion issue associated with travel, it opens the door to another problem: the consequences of ineffective learning, which can undermine quality, performance, customer satisfaction and safety.

It’s a lesson learned from the coronavirus, but it applies over the longer term to addressing global health crises and other disruptions in the future. Merely putting PowerPoint decks and other static materials online as a substitute for in-person training will not suffice. Rather, eLearning must be a workable solution that meets the L&D needs of companies and their employees.

The Cost of Poor eLearning

Organizations worldwide spend more than $350 billion on corporate training and education each year, but much of it is ineffective. In fact, in one survey, only 8 percent of CEOs saw a business impact from L&D.

In order to become part of the solution to “business as usual” during a global health crisis, eLearning must overcome its previous shortcomings. For example, poorly executed eLearning can trigger learner fatigue and disengagement, which means learners retain little of their new knowledge. The real nemesis, though, is a pervasive problem known as unconscious incompetence: People believe they know something when they do not. Based on work with organizations across multiple industries as well as academia, unconscious incompetence can occur in as much as 20% to 40% of areas critical to job performance.

Here’s one way that unconscious incompetence can take root: Having clicked through a static eLearning course, employees develop a false sense of security that they fully understand the use of a product, technology or safety procedure. What that online course can’t tell them, however, is how much information they really understood and where they still struggle. For example, a multiple-choice quiz that responds “try again” to a wrong answer only narrows the process of elimination until the right answer remains, which raises doubts regarding what the learner actually understands.

Replicating the Tutor

To be effective, especially during a health crisis where in-person training is suspended, eLearning must move beyond the “one-size-fits-all” approach that fails to account for wide differences in learners’ backgrounds, education levels, experiences and baseline knowledge. Personalization is the big differentiator, as demonstrated in the well-known research study by Benjamin Bloom, who found that the one-on-one interaction of tutor and pupil is far more effective than traditional classroom learning.

The obvious problem with the tutor approach in a corporate setting is the cost and lack of scalability. The effectiveness of tutoring, however, does point to how we can make eLearning more effective, using adaptive learning technology that takes a personalized approach. These learning platforms can identify what learners have already mastered and which learning resources they need to improve comprehension and refresh what they already learned. Organizations can also pair adaptive learning with training simulators to develop the hands-on, mission-critical skills needed in fields such as aviation and health care.

When designed and implemented well, computer-based instruction can supplement and, in certain instances, replace in-person training, especially when the unexpected happens, as we’re seeing with the coronavirus outbreak. As researchers wrote in the journal “Psychological Science in the Public Interest,” the “way training is designed, delivered, and implemented matters.” Key ingredients, the researchers observed, include ensuring that training addresses workforce needs, maximizing learning that employees can use on the job, and keeping employees engaged and motivated to learn.

Empowering the CLO

The time has come for C-suite leaders to empower the chief learning officer (CLO) and provide him or her with resources to determine how to deliver eLearning that actually works. Results need to move beyond course completion to tracking how employees are building competencies and capabilities.

This eLearning is essential now, in the aftermath of the coronavirus outbreak, but is important going forward as well. No matter what the future may hold, we need greater efficiency and effectiveness in training in order to train and reskill employees across the workforce.

A thoughtful transition to remote learning is more critical now than ever. Download the training delivery toolbox to learn about the pros and cons of various virtual training modalities and when each is most applicable.