The Optimum E-Learning Environment

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Have you ever started an e-learning course and didn’t finish it? You’re not alone. Statistics for online learning place the student drop rate at about 80 percent. For those who do finish, retention is a disappointing 30 percent lower than for students using printed material. According to a study by Forrester Group, students say the static nature of content and the lack of interactivity are to blame, with more than half considering these issues a major barrier to success.

Learning is inherently a social activity, and most of us, by nature, need human touch and hands-on activities to give content meaning and relevance. This interaction is the catalyst that transforms what we learn into real-world application and problem-solving on the job.

Yet according to California-based consulting firm Granada Research, performance gains with learning over the Internet can be five to 30 times greater than other training methods due to speed, quality and training cost reduction.

What is the secret to realizing these gains? Environment is the key. When e-learning is delivered in an interactive environment, with the right tools and support, studies show that you can retain significantly more and achieve a greater level of skill and performance.

A recent Thomson/NETg study revealed significant increases in skill and performance levels among students taking online classes through a blended, interactive learning environment. Compared to students of e-learning classes alone, these students performed 30 percent more accurately. On the job, they were able to perform real-world tasks 41 percent faster and with 159 percent more accuracy.

So what is the optimal interactive e-learning environment? Simply stated, it allows you the flexibility to learn on your own terms, while providing the tools and support you need when you need them. Namely, it provides these key elements:

  • Support before, during and after an e-learning class. Learning is not contained within the time frame of a course. Questions often arise once a student begins to apply content to real-world tasks. Enabling learners to tap into resources at their greatest point of learning—when they need it—improves long-term retention and proficiency.
  • Accessibility to resources around the clock. You get the help you need when you need it.
  • Comprehensive content. Content must be rich enough in depth and scope to help you prepare for real-world application.
  • Online mentors who are certified and experienced in the topic you’re studying. Online mentors can add tremendous value to your course of study, with timely feedback and sound advice backed by years of practice in the field.
  • Interactive learning community. Learning is inherently a social activity, yet limited interaction with people has prevailed in most e-learning environments. This is where many online programs fail the student. A successful program should provide opportunity for dynamic exchange that adds meaning and value to content, enabling the student to transform the learning experience into problem-solving and initiative for supporting business goals.
  • Interactive learning tools for community exchange, such as chat rooms, threaded discussions and message boards; personal exchange with an instructor, such as one-on-one discussions, e-mail and phone support; virtual classroom and synchronous training events; testing and assignments to assess your progress; and FAQ archives, link libraries and recommendations for further reading for deeper understanding and development.
  • Live, online learning labs, which enable you to put what you’ve learned into practice with live equipment. Live labs should be tailored to each individual’s course of study for greater meaning and relevance.The optimal e-learning environment goes beyond flexibility and economy to deliver choice. It shifts the learning focus from facility, teacher or technology to one that is centered on you and your individual needs and learning style. Best of all, the optimal e-learning environment allows you to learn at your own pace on your own terms—but you never have to go it alone. Resources, mentors and the learning community are just a phone call or mouse click away to help you at your greatest point of learning—when you need it!

    William Pilder, Ph.D., is senior vice president, talent solutions, for KnowledgePool America ( An author and advocate of the application of technology for career development and transition, Pilder drives the design and development of customized, Web-based employee development applications for KnowledgePool’s Global 2000 clients.

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