The rise in the adoption of e-learning has been consistent, in part because e-learning scales. A recent study shows that, while companies with between 200 and 1,000 employees dedicate an average of 37 percent of their learning spend on e-learning, companies of 10,000 employees or more spend 50 percent of their budget on e-learning. Recent estimates predict a market of over $220 billion by 2024.

Learners have increasingly less time to learn. In fact, according to Bersin by Deloitte, workers can spend about 1 percent of their work week on learning. The appeal of a modality that offers on-demand learning at your desk or on your mobile device is significant.

As our learning ecosystems have become filled with e-learning modules and courses, an unfortunate reality has emerged: Not all uses of a modality, however good its attributes, will be good. Many, if not most, e-learning is little more than PowerPoint slides with voice-over. Of course, there are many exceptions, evident in e-learning experiences that use smart assessment, branching methodology, gaming and other techniques to increase engagement, variety and interaction. However, these exceptions are sparse in many organizations’ e-learning portfolios.

Why is this type of interactive engagement so critical? After all, employees don’t have much time to learn, and they can passively consume content (e.g., listening to an audio lecture in an e-learning module) while performing other tasks. No one modality or technique is inherently good or bad, and listening to content while commuting or working on a project may be appropriate for some types of learning. The problem is that it is limited in both appeal and efficacy.

We know that adult learners want content to be relevant and interactive and the learning experience to be varied. Effective learning allows for practice, spacing, and the ability to return and practice again. The depth of practice or application and the length of the spacing varies with the complexity of the topic. It is possible to consciously design e-learning to take advantage of these two principles of adult learning and, in so doing to, dramatically increase its effectiveness.

When employees decide it is time for the 1 percent of the week that they can dedicate to learning, they typically prefer for it to happen at work, at their own pace and at the moment of need. E-learning fits this bill. In particular, we should consider a particular category of learning experiences: high-interactivity, high-scale experiences (i.e. High I/High S experiences).

Interaction vs. Scale

There are many ways to build and buy high I/high S experiences. Here are a few ideas:

  • Consider online simulations for topics like management, negotiation and selling
  • Explore the use of augmented reality and virtual reality experiences that allow workers to engage with situations, tools or systems in a low-risk environment
  • Provide sandbox environments in your learning experiences to allow software developers to “play with” executing code
  • Build or buy learning experiences with interactive timelines, 3D models or other assets that allow the learner to engage more fully with the subject matter
  • Consider building a digital laboratory for employees to learn skills or processes online and on demand through experimentation

The e-learning landscape is the tip of the arrow for learning and development innovation. High I/high S experiences are cost-effective and meet learners where they are. Now, let’s make sure they are also interactive, engaging, relevant and good examples of the science of learning at work.