eLearning has been gaining momentum for years in the corporate training realm—it can no longer be called a “trend.” As technology continues to evolve, so will the impressive tools and training methods coming out of the eLearning space. However, how does the relative “new kid on the block” compare to experiential learning? Let’s explore the merits of these two popular approaches and if there’s space for both in your corporate training initiatives:
eLearning in the Workplace
eLearning, or electronic learning, encompasses a wide range of training tools and methods, which has helped make it a $100 billion-plus industry. Here, though, are several common ways that eLearning takes shape in corporate training today:
- Video instruction
- Interactive tutorials with quiz components
- Gamified learning, where users learn new concepts by working through online games
- Podcasts and other prerecorded materials
The specific benefits of eLearning vary according to its implementation, but this training type as a whole has several advantages. For one, eLearning is easily scalable. eLearning can easily grow with your company, because the only things you need for implementation are computer access and the training program itself. Relatedly, eLearning may be a good fit for companies whose offices are scattered across the country or for companies that employ a lot of remote workers.
Another big benefit? More recent gains in the eLearning industry have ushered in on-the-go, on-demand corporate learning. Today, eLearning platforms are being built so that they can be easily accessed on mobile phones—many eLearning training programs even come with their own downloadable apps. This gives users more choice and flexibility in their learning, so they can fit training into busy schedules.
One big drawback of eLearning, however, is that the industry is constantly changing. Unfortunately, that means that electronic training software can become obsolete in a matter of years, as more effective eLearning platforms come along. That leaves companies with a tough choice: upgrade their entire training platforms every few years or keep using the same eLearning platforms with the knowledge that other companies—including competitors—are investing in newer, more effective eLearning approaches.
The Experiential Learning Competitive Edge
On the other end of the training spectrum, you have experiential learning. Experiential learning takes a completely different approach from that of eLearning: Trainees learn how to change their behavior through participation in hands-on, discovery-based learning sessions. During these immersive training exercises, participants work together to solve a themed challenge, like traversing a dangerous desert to mine gold. During the experience, it may feel like a fun game for participants, but it’s actually a metaphor for the issues that trainees struggle with on the job. After the participatory training exercise, a facilitator leads a debrief session. During the debrief, the facilitator reveals the metaphor and explains how the strategies that trainees used to win the game are the same strategies they can use to “win” at work.
Experiential training differs from eLearning in a couple of big ways, most obviously with its live, participatory nature. This puts experiential learning at a huge advantage in terms of retention. Learners retain up to 90 percent of experience-based learning, while passive learning (which encompasses many eLearning approaches, like online videos) has retention rates as low as five percent. At first blush, eLearning may seem like the more cost-effective training method, thanks to its scalability—but experiential training actually provides a much higher ROI. It doesn’t matter how affordable a training method may seem; paying any amount for information that likely goes in one ear and out the other is just too much.
Some eLearning approaches, however, involve more than just passive reception, like interactive quizzes and gamification. Still, experiential training has a leg up even on these eLearning approaches, thanks to one crucial aspect often overlooked in training: conviction. By participating in live and real challenges as themselves (instead of as a character in an online game, for example), trainees are able to build personal conviction. The structure of the themed challenge allows trainees to immediately see the consequences of their own actions, which means they cannot skirt personal responsibility for their behaviors. Participating in such a visceral experience with immediate consequences also illustrates the power of behavior—behaviors, and not just circumstances, can determine success or failure. Participants leave the training session with the conviction that changing their behaviors at work can have an equally powerful effect on their job outcomes.
Experiential training’s edge in retention and building conviction means it’s one method of learning that’s here to stay for the long haul. For the most effective learning outcomes for your colleagues, however, combining eLearning and experiential learning may be the best approach. eLearning can be used to support the new skills and behavior changes taught during experiential training as part of a retention program. Using online lectures to recap material and quizzes to test retention, for example, helps colleagues keep their training top of mind long after the experiential training session ends. eLearning exercises can also be used to help measure retention rates, giving managers a better idea of how impactful their training was—and what tweaks may need to be made in the future.
Do you use a combination of eLearning and another training method for your current training initiatives? What have your results been?
As Chief Operating Officer, Sue’s extensive senior leadership experience and facilitation skills have established her as a trusted partner and organizational development expert. She has a proven track record of successfully leading culture transformation in Fortune 500 companies and has established herself as an authority on training and development. Sue has over 20 years of experience in the creation and delivery of programs and custom designed solutions for Eagle’s Flight.