How CUs Can More Effectively Use E-Learning

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E-learning is known by several names, but whatever you call it, one person believes more credit unions should leverage it for training.

Whether it is referred to as web-based training, online learning or e-learning, and whether the content is live or stored, allowing staff members to train via computer can help CUs maintain consistency of instruction and overcome obstacles such as a limited number of trainers or wide geographic dispersal, Chopeta Lyons said.

Lyons, a Willington, Conn.-based consultant, told attendees at the CUNA HR Training and Development Council conference here businesses are beginning to recognize the benefits of e-learning. However, she said, some factors still are misunderstood. "Learning management systems, knowledge management systems and online documentation are not the same as e-learning," she declared. "E-learning is best when there is a large number of trainees or high turnover, the content is stable, and the content is appropriate for the training type."

There are two basic types of e-learning: synchronous learning, which occurs live, and asynchronous learning, which is pre-recorded, Lyons said.

"In synchronous learning, the content is real-time and changes dynamically. It is a collaborative effort, and typically features 'chat,' either through text or audio, or live polls or questions."

While synchronous learning must be scheduled, asynchronous learning is available anytime, she continued. It has programmed interactions that must anticipate all possible user answers. It is a solo experience and is the same every time it is viewed.

Some companies choose to use a blended version of e-learning, which combines instructor-led sessions and web-based elements such as offline exercises in a training database.

Onions & Orchids

Lyons dubbed the positive features of e-learning the "orchids," while the drawbacks were called the "onions." She said the orchids include convenience, consistency, variety and the ability of the user to customize all aspects of the program. The onions depended largely on how the e-learning experience was designed. She warned against having "text to the Nth degree," no interaction or an excessively slow pace.

"There are six aspects that make e-learning good: the interface, technical delivery, content, interactivity, graphics and language," she said.

A good interface is intuitive, easy-to-use and does not distract the user, Lyons continued. The site should be organized "transparently," meaning menu bars on the left, tabs across the top, and easily visible "page forward" and "page back" buttons so the user can navigate easily. In addition, the interface should show where the person has been and where he or she still needs to go to complete the particular training program.

"These are called breadcrumbs or checkmarks," she explained. "They are useful when someone takes the e-learning course in small pieces over time."

Lyons recommended good use of "real estate" on the page: not using distracting colors or flashing graphics to take the eye away from critical content. She also said the interface should be appropriate to the audience profile, such as larger font sizes for older users.

CUs should ensure technology is not a barrier. It should match the delivery platform, be supported by a help desk or appropriate built-in tools, and should facilitate, not disrupt learner acceptance of training content. "It needs to be appropriate for the learner's environment. For example, a receptionist cannot wear a headset and listen to audio while answering phones."

Content should be designed for electronic display and delivery, she continued. This means short blocks of text versus long, active learning versus passive learning, and focused attention versus cognitive overload. She said things people use, rather than memorize, work best. "Make it job-oriented, not a lot of seductive details. Seductive details include stories, which suppress learning if there are too many."

Interactivity contributes to participation and learning, Lyons said. While both tutorials and tests are needed, the ratio of tutorials to tests should be three-to-one. "Emphasize application versus memory, and make sure to align with learning objectives."

As with other factors, graphics should enhance understanding, not depress learning. Graphics should focus attention, organize content, make concrete the abstract, create mnemonic cues and build appropriate mental models.

About Language

The final aspect, language, should be directed toward the user, Lyons advised. She said e-learning should avoid jargon, use the active voice, and be casual yet professional.

If a CU is going to purchase an e-learning package from a vendor, Lyons recommends a systematic evaluation. "Be the learner. Take the course as a learner and review it in the same environment a learner is expected to," she said. "Use a checklist to evaluate all aspects." (c) 2005 The Credit Union Journal and SourceMedia, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

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