PM Chronicles #8: How Effective is Elearning Anyway? by Fred Parker

On a video conference. Present are:

  • BOSS – Company President
  • PHD – Credentialed Expert
  • OPS – Operations Manager
  • HR – Human Relations Manager
  • PM – Performance Manager
  • LT – Learning and Talent Development Coordinator
  • TC – Training Coordinator
  • HG – Consultant (Hired Gun)

BOSS    First, PM, thanks for setting this up. It is not quite the same as sitting around the conference table, but it works for now. I miss getting together with all of you.

               I asked PHD to join us today so we can get his expert input on some difficulties OPS and HR are having with remote training.

               PHD, I understand you and HG know each other.

HG         That’s right. We served together in the Marines starting in the 1970s as captains working out of basement offices in Quantico.

BOSS    And you have similar experiences in performance management.

PHD      Oh yes. We make a good team. I tend to be more strategic while HG is more tactical. In that fashion I spent more time getting a couple of advanced degrees, including one in Performance Technology, while HG was getting a lot of field experience.

               The best part is that we came out of it almost perfectly aligned on what works with training and development. That is why we formed the partnership at Pathfinder Coaches Academy (

               We help others get back to basics in training.

BOSS    Ok, good! We will get back to that.

               PM, I want to thank you for the Ethics module your team conducted last week. Of the three sessions, I was able to attend most of one and it seemed to me it went very well.

PM         Yes, we got very favorable comments from the participants. We also have requests to set up some informal forums so they can continue some of the discussions. LT and TC will start that this week.

“Remote Training” is not “Online Training”

PM         Going forward, however, we are not going to call this “online facilitated training.” That really is a misnomer. About the only thing “online” about it that it is delivered using computers. We should really call it what it is – “remote training.”

BOSS    Great! What is the next workshop?

PM         As you know we are planning one new module a month over seven months. The next module will be Informal Conflict Resolution.

               And that gives us an excellent segue into our primary topic for today. How to help HR do all of the personal interaction and regulatory training required.

HR         This is fascinating. With your first two subjects, ethics and conflict resolution, you have already dealt with some major HR issues.

               I think I am beginning to see why a lot of my colleagues in HR are so frustrated with their online, or elearning, but I want to get PHD’s insight on this.

PHD      I might as well just hit it head on.

The Fallacy of Elearning

PHD      The fallacy of elearning is that you can replace human instructors with machines or computers. It has never worked and it never will.

               Let’s compare this to a laser pointer and a cat. You can use a laser pointer to get the cat to jump around chasing it. Elearning is a similar bright shiny object you can use to get people’s attention also. A cat will finally get tired and quit. So will elearners.

               A difference is that the cat will come back tomorrow for more exercise. People, however, don’t come back. The bright shiny graphics, games, or whatever are entertaining for a while, but become boring.

HR         Wow. I hadn’t thought about this in a long time, but wasn’t there something some years back about a flight simulator program that failed.

PHD      Yes, back in the late 1970s. I had three friends, engineers, who worked on that project. But it all fell apart because after once or twice the pilots wouldn’t come back.

OPS       What went wrong? I thought simulators were a good way to go. Isn’t that sort of what we do here using idle machines at night for OJT to train new operators?

PHD      Think about that a minute. What is different?

OPS       Hmm. Let me think. We have OJT monitor and coach the trainees on actual machinery, not simulators. Is that it?

PHD      Partly, but keep talking. There is something else.

OPS       You mean OJT is there! Is that it?

PHD      Yes. People learn things from people. It is obvious that you must have the machine, but you must have other people as well.

               The airline industry learned, after much study, that pilots needed at least 50% of their training time to be with other pilots and instructors.

HR         Ok, fine. That is hard skills, technical training.

               But what about the fuzzy things I have to train on?

PHD      Let’s think about this some more. Do any of you have any other examples.

What About Sesame Street?

TC          Wait a minute. Back when my children were small they told me that television would teach them. They told me Sesame Street and Big Bird would teach my kids to read before they went to school.

PHD      Did it work?

TC          No, it was all hype. They would watch that for a while and dance around with Big Bird, but then they would come to me for me to read to them and explain the stories to them.

PHD      The elearners are all technology driven when they should be performance driven.

HG         Here is an example that I think applies directly to HRs frustration.

               HR, do you think violent video games train people to be violent?

HR         Good heavens! I hope not! There are a couple that I enjoy myself. Wow!

               So, let me say where I think that leaves us. HG has already shown us how to do soft skills modules as remote learning, with informal chat sessions for follow up.

               If I have this right, we should work with HG to build similar modules for all the rest of what I need to do.

PHD      You got it.


HR         Does that mean that we never use elearning applications.

PHD      Let me ask this. Do you ever use the “Help” feature with a computer program?

HR         Yes, why?

PHD      That is a perfect example of what is called “microlearning.” Immediate help with a specific problem.

LT           I think I have another example. We are planning some modules around our core values as a company. We have talked about producing some short videos, one for each core value. We plan to use examples of our employees and situations at work to illustrate core values on the job.

Performance First, Then Technology

PHD      Perfect. That is exactly how to use technology in training. Build your training and THEN consider what technology will enhance the training.

               That is what I meant earlier about being performance driven.

               We could go on all day citing examples of how we can leverage computers to enhance learning and performance.

               Just always remind yourself that the computer is just one tool.

               Let me finish with this. Can you imagine effective training with NO computer, ZERO technology? Is that even possible?

PM         I think we are beginning to.

PHD      OK! Some of the very best training I have seen and continue to see uses printed workbooks, a flip chart, a white board, simple things.

               Bottom line – People train people. That is the only way it works.


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Fred Parker is the Director of Course Design and Development at Fred has half a century as a Performance Management Consultant designing, developing, and delivering performance-based training including all manner of technical training, individual development soft skills, and basic leadership. Clients include all sizes from a local sandwich shop to the military to fortune 500 multinationals. Now Fred is converting previous ILT courses to remote delivery courses available on our web site.

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