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E-learning is the hottest trend currently being adopted in the education and business industry. E-learning means learning over the internet/intranet and this can be done at the learners own pace or at real time (LiNE Zine, 2001). Regardless of the flexibility and self pace learning, e-learning has been a “stab in the back” for many organisations as they have spent millions of dollars on the technology infrastructure to implement online learning but most corporate learners had joined the courses and they did not stay to complete it. At Motorola University, 69% of the students had dropped out (The New Corporate University Review, 2003). The attrition rate (the number of students enrolled in the course dwindles) was alarming for many companies including Toyota, GE Capital, New York Online University (NYUonline), Corporate University Xchange Inc and others.
According to Workforce Management (2003), many online learners neglect their courses complaining that they don’t have enough time as some of the courses could only be viewed on the company’s intranet and the distraction from the other colleagues made it impossible to complete the course during working hours. The importance of completing the course was not clearly emphasised by the management and the immediate supervisor and the course instructor did not check on the learners’ performance thus resulting in de-motivation for the students.
The courses were poorly designed and certain aspect of the modules weren’t relevant to the employees’ job. The course could not be customised according to the learners preference, for instance they were not given a choice of information delivery, i.e. in audio or text.
The e-learning technology is new to most of the employees and a shocking number of them did not know how to go about using the programme as the guidelines were brief and insufficient especially to the computer illiterates. The students could not depend on their instructors as some then were inexperienced, thus they were not an ideal source of knowledge for the students.
Furthermore, many corporate learners felt isolated during the learning process. Especially those who underwent asynchronous course left rather distant and boredom began to envelope them, whereas in synchronous courses, employees completion rate were by far much better. At Sun Microsystems and NYUonline completion rates rose up to 75% with synchronous courses, however, the remaining students felt that the participation level of interaction and collaboration was low.
To further enhance Workforce Management (2003) findings, both The Learning Guild (2003), and University of Glasgow (2003) had used Vincent Tinto’s Retention Model to explain that learners withdraw from their courses either from academic or social integration. Academic integration is when they decide whether the subject is of their interest, is it enjoyable, it provides career development and are they currently satisfied with their results. Social integration refers to the peers that the students have discussion with, are they comfortable with them and their relationship towards instructors. Having a positive academic and social integration would result in a strong likelihood of course completion. (Refer to Appendix 15 pg 3 for diagram).
In order to overcome the alarming rate of student attrition, it is essential to analyse the notion of how adults learn. By understanding the concepts in various adult learning theories, companies will have the opportunity to design a course that would provide learners with a more meaningful learning experience. Malcohm Knowels approach was known as the theory of andragogy, which is defined as “the art and science of helping adults learn” (Nova Southeastern University, 2003). Knowels explains that adults will want to know why they are learning something, how it would be applied to their jobs and the effect of learning a particular course. Adult are eager to learn and then will want to apply knowledge and skills learnt immediately otherwise they tend to procrastinate their online learning. Adults’ educational learning should comprise of interaction and case studies instead of memorisation. Lastly, adults are strongly motivated by the intrinsic factors such as job satisfaction, self esteem and quality of work environment compared to the extrinsic factors such as higher pay, and promotions. Knowels theory is used for traditional classroom, but it also applicable for e-learning and organisations need to take note that the learning style of an adult does not change even if the means of delivering knowledge changes (Learning Circuits, 2003).
Other adult learning theories are similar to that of Knowels, such as Characteristics of Adult Learners (CAL) model by Cross which explains that regardless of the personal characteristics (age, life stages, developmental stages) and situational characteristics (full/part time learning and voluntary/involuntary learning) the learners still require some flexibility, control and feedback in their learning process. However imperative these theories are, it does not discuss on the interaction or communication aspect which is one of the fundamental needs of online learning (Nova Southeastern University, 2003).
In addition to this, companies will have to determine the motivating factor that would drive the learners to complete the courses. Some learners are active and would continuously keep on learning. They can plan and organise their structure of learning and are motivated mainly by intrinsic factors. As for passive learners, they need to be “spoon fed” as they lack the personal motivation, thus they need to be rewarded by the extrinsic factors in order to pursue the course. To determine the type of learners, companies can provide questionnaires; therefore they can act accordingly to motivate the different types of learners (Vuepoint, 2002).
To keep online learners continuously learning, companies should motivate them prior to beginning the course, during the course, and after the course. When preparing the course or modules, companies should know who the learners are and what their goals are by conducting a need analysis. It is important for learners to see that what they study is relevant to for their task. Companies will need to determine if the course learnt would actually meet the learners’ goals (Vuepoint, 2002).
A culture for online learning should be developed in the company. Management and colleagues support is needed in designing the course. Management can provide a small presentation on the importance of online learning or an orientation to the course so that potential learners would have the willingness to participate in online learning (Learning Circuits, 2003). For instance, at NYUonline, the vice president for training had a pep talk with the learners informing them on the importance of the course and the positive outcome they would obtain from the organisation (Workforce Management, 2003). Companies need to ensure that there is no distraction from the other staffs, and that the immediate supervisor is trained to accept the new skills and abilities from the employees (Vuepoint, 2002).
Push strategies should be used to foster course completion. This include monitoring the learners, for instance, the instructors can use the Archipelago software to check when the students had logged in and out and how long it took them to complete the assignment. At GE Capital, the supervisor tracks the learners’ performance and informs them if they are lagging. Dashboards are posted to show the students performance and results. Pull strategies can also be used by giving inspiration to the learner to complete the course. This can be done by using managers as role models, for instance the senior management would take the course as well. Stories of students completing the courses should be posted up so that potential learners would know that they too can be successful (Workforce Management, 2003).
Give the learner 20minitue detailed learning. According to Centrax Corporation in Chicago, this has been effective for the employees. Keep the learners entertained with animation, photos, and videos, eye-catching backgrounds, however, don’t create distraction that may cause the learner to deviate. Provide interaction so that the learner is attentive, for instance using rollovers, and drag and drops. Standardise all the pages, and the text, provide tutorial and help features so as to make it user friendly. Enable the customisation feature so at the information could either be presented in text or audio, or they could change the colours or certain images to suit their preference (Learning Circuits, 2003).
Interaction needs to be enhanced in online learning. In traditional classrooms completion rate is close to 100% because students are able to communicate freely when they see each other, trust is built as they can determine the non-verbal gestures of the other students. Instructors can know if the students understand the topic from the expressions and emotions. But in online learning, the support of students is essential. An interest group can be formed by discussing problems and issues via live chat rooms, or video conferencing. Management could provide support by setting up alumni for the online learners so that those who have completed the course but still face problems can interact with other learners. (LiNE Zine, 2001).
According to Fastrak Consulting Ltd (2003), a “buddy system” should be incorporated in e-learning so that so that each learner works in pair thus building the trust and loyalty. The pressure of having a companion would force the learner to complete the course. However, this may create problems as each learner have got different learning approaches, and they may be overly dependent on their buddy, dampening their effort to work alone especially when the skills needs to be transferred to the organisation.
Provide immediate feedback to the student. Chat sessions, virtual classes, e-mail, are ways that the instructors can answer queries. Passwords can be enabled to prevent unauthorised users from entering the discussion (ASTD, 2002). Learning should be viewed as a process that is ongoing. Organisations need to continuously update their courses, and as for the learner, the learning should not stop when the course is completed, instead discussions should be held to learn the new skills and knowledge. Instructors need to continuously assist the learners and show support. In Motorola University, the emphasis on interaction had caused completion rates to escalate. When learning with other students in a global environment, avoid discrimination that would offend the others (Vuepoint, 2002).
Provide different forms of learning to students. Multiple choice tests are becoming obsolete. Instead conduct simulation test, team work, and competitions to test the students. Provide them with a challenge that would provide a feeling of satisfaction upon completion. For instance, during coffee breaks employees would be playing some short games as they find this entertaining. However, if an e-learner developer could come up with a simulation game, like the buying and selling of share. Thus, those undergoing online learning would have to complete the game by playing with other learners as well. Those that completed the course successfully would have met certain objectives such as obtaining a profit of $10million in 5years. The objective of this course is to determine whether the learner is able to cope with the current environment and apply the same principles and skills that were learnt.
After the course completion, the learner should not be neglected. Provide an award to the learner as a matter of credit from the management. Provide a follow-up on the training in case certain skills have been forgotten. Communication with the instructor should still be provided even when the course has been completed (Vuepoint, 2002).
To fully motivate a learner, CUES Online University (2002), had proposed the ARCS model. Every course design should provide Attention, Relevance, Confidence and Satisfaction to a learner. These are the fundamental characteristics that summarised which are essential for company to be aware of so as to achieve high completion and retention rates.
According to Training Magazine (2003), many companies are focusing too much on ensuring that learners complete the course. He says that what has been learnt is not an issue; instead the learner should be able to transfer what has been learnt to the job performance. At Cisco, employees are allowed to skip certain modules that they feel isn’t applicable as long as they have passed the test. At Best Buy Co., an IT company, the employees need not have to undergo training for a skill required. Instead when a certain skill is needed, they just download ad hoc courses. The same view is also share by another writer LiNE Zine (2001), whereby a lot of e-learning is based on completion of a course. The term completion means that the student will just learn the modules and that is it, no further reinforcement would be focused on by the learners as the learner has already been given the rewards.
As seen by various writers, certain companies are just pushing e-learning into the hands of the employees as they feel that everyone is doing it and how come they are not? It is important to note that training should be provided for when there is a need for a new skill or knowledge. As pointed out by the theory of andragogy, every adult learner is self motivated to learn and certain rewards may be required for a passive learner, but the bulk enforcing motivation lies on the instructor and the organisation in creating an effective online learning environment. The learner will continue to learn if the experience is pleasurable. In life, we only seek for pleasure and avoid pain, thus organisations should avoid the negative impacts of the feeling of isolation, lack of technological support and poor instructional designs.
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