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Seven sins of e-learning

We featured training done online in the April print issue of Professional Security. As trainers – not only in private security – appreciate, e-learning has its place, but it isn’t always the answer. Here’s Dr Amy Burrell’s view of the ‘seven deadly sins’ of e-learning.

E-learning seems to be everywhere. This is not surprising as the benefits of e-learning are far reaching – from flexibility to cost effectiveness. However, there are some common pitfalls of e-learning that need to be avoided to ensure it meets expectations. This article uses the seven deadly sins – lust, gluttony, greed, sloth, wrath, envy and pride – as a framework for thinking about common failings within e-learning. The seven heavenly virtues (chastity, temperance, charity, diligence, patience, kindness, and humility) could be used as an alternative (building good practice) but that would be nowhere near as much fun.

Lust – the intense desire to do something – could be interpreted as a positive if it is linked to motivation. So what could possibly be wrong with ‘lusting’ to do an e-learning course? Well, often the desire to enrol on a course blinds the student to the potential problems. For example, they might not have the money to pay for the course or they completely fail to plan for when they are going to complete the necessary work. The excitement to take part can make it difficult to make a logical, non-emotional decision about whether to sign up.

Defined as over-consumption, gluttony can also be a problem. It is tempting to enrol on lots of e-learning courses at the same time as there is often a lot of flexibility in terms of learning hours and assignment deadlines. However, there is not a causal relationship between volume and value (that is, more does not necessarily mean better). In fact, many people are poor at multi-tasking and so dividing attention between various courses is more likely to lead to none being completed (or at least some not being completed to the students’ full potential) than resulting in a fantastic CV boosting outcome. Thus, signing up for the maximum number of courses (maybe to impress the boss) is perhaps not the best idea. Instead, identify needs and expectations and develop a training plan. Prioritise the most important courses but demonstrate commitment to future learning by pencilling them in for a later date.

Perhaps the most common error in e-learning is greed (or maybe more accurately a lack of investment). People see e-learning as an inexpensive option so it can come as quite a surprise when it costs money to set up and/or attend e-learning courses. From a training provider perspective, it is important to invest time and money in developing high quality learning materials. In fact, it often takes longer to write learning materials for an online course as all information needs to be conveyed to the right level without a trainer present. It is also important to invest in the right virtual learning environment so there is maximum flexibility in how materials are presented. Investment in educational software such as quiz making tools, and good quality tutors is also highly recommended. From a learner perspective, the old adage ‘you get what you pay for’ applies. Good quality courses will still cost a bit more to enrol on because of the quality of learning materials, the expertise of the tutors, and the costs associated with accreditation (for example, marking, certificates and so on).

It is easy to be lazy on an e-learning course as the trainer is not physically there to push students to complete the necessary work. Often, laziness creeps in slowly so it is not noticeable that taking one week off from extra-curricular learning suddenly becomes two months and all of a sudden it’s very difficult to catch up and complete on time. From a training provider perspective, the most obvious sloth issue is failing to develop effective learning materials. E-learning materials need to be developed specifically for the mode of delivery rather than just a repackaging of existing classroom resources. It might be easiest to upload existing course material online and expect learners to read the entire content but this does not embrace the essence of e-learning. It certainly does not stimulate creativity and risks alienating students. E-learning needs to be engaging and imaginative, and thus this is the worst environment in which to be lazy about how learning materials are produced. Laziness can also lead to poor standards. It is easy to fall into the trap of thinking e-learning does not need to be monitored in the same way as classroom based courses. Nothing could be further from the truth – quality assurance is as important as it would be for any classroom based course.

As silly as it sounds, it is possible to invoke wrath in e-learning. As a learner, there is nothing worse than enrolling on an e-learning course where it is impossible to find anything. Poor navigation tools within an e-learning system is quite possibly the most irritating thing in the world. Combine this with an IT system that it not capable of supporting the e-learning package properly, and tutors who never answer their phone or email, and all hell will break loose.

Envy can be a powerful emotion and can result in all sorts of bizarre behaviour – basically wanting what someone else has got can lead to all sorts of problems. Imagine signing up for an expensive and totally pointless e-learning course just because someone else has? Regardless of what a family member, colleague, or even rival at work, is up to a student should only enrol on the course if completing it would meet a specific training need. Similarly, just because one training provider is offering e-learning doesn’t mean all training providers have to. Developing courses out of envy can lead to an overcrowded market for e-learning packages so, rather than generating more interest, it could lead to dilution with few people enrolling on any single course. Furthermore, some topics are not suited to e-learning as the mode of delivery and so an envy driven push to develop a training course could fall completely flat if the topic is wrong.

There is, quite rightly, a lot of emphasis placed on ensuring e-learning courses ‘look the part’. However, there is no point having a seemingly “all singing, all dancing” e-learning package if the people studying on the course don’t actually learn anything. Over-emphasising the look of a product to the detriment of the content is a recipe for disaster. Pride can be a problem for learners too if they focus on enrolling on the course which has the most interesting title (and so may seem better for their CV) rather than the course that actually teaches them the required skills. So dump being superficial and choose the course that is fit-for-purpose rather than the one with a cool title.

Am I sinful?
It is not unusual to be guilty of at least one of the “seven deadly sins” of e-learning – its human nature! However, it is useful to review decisions based on the dangers outlined above, just to ensure we are not in line for a major e-learning catastrophe. Most pitfalls can be avoided by thinking things through and making sure decisions are logical and evidence based rather than emotionally driven. In summary, don’t be afraid to embrace e-learning, just make sure it is for the right reasons.

About the author
Dr Amy Burrell, pictured, is a Training Manager at Perpetuity Training; a Leicester-based company specialising in security and risk management training. Perpetuity Training deliver the Security Institute distance learning plus classroom based BTEC short courses. Perpetuity also develop and deliver bespoke in-house training. For more information see, call 0116 277 3313 or email [email protected]


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