The pros and cons of digital learning

by Brett Henebery27 Mar 2017

The HR Tech World London 2017 conference was held last week, providing insights into the increasingly important role that technology plays in workplace learning.

One of the speakers at the conference pointed out that while digital learning has its benefits, it is nonetheless a limited practice.

Gil Mulders, head of learning at InterContinental Hotels Group, told the conference that “emotion is key and you can’t deliver that digitally.”

And young managers agree. A report by CMI and Oxford Strategic Consulting found that younger managers are more likely to choose face-to-face training as opposed to digital learning.

The survey found that 69% of respondents believe that their organisation only offers digital management and leadership development to cut costs. That’s compared to just 20% who think it is actually used to improve the quality of teaching.

Mulders advised delegates at the conference to “listen to employees, educate, anticipate, rationalise and nurture” throughout the learning process.

“When it comes to listening to staff, collect data from them to discover what L&D techniques are most effective for them, and utilise face-to-face interviews rather than just electronic surveys,” he said.

However, there are some who argue that digital learning is more effective than face-to-face learning.

Ralph LaFontaine, managing director of online distance learning provider Home Learning College, says that e-learning provides the opportunity to extend learning beyond borders with more benefits than traditional learning could ever offer.

“There has been much discussion and theories on how individual learners each have different ‘learning styles’ that must be catered to,” LaFontaine said.

“Though much of this has now been invalidated we must still take into account that all learners will have distinct characteristics and physiologies that can help or hinder their approach to learning.”

As an example, LaFontaine pointed to a neuroscience research report, which demonstrated that blood sugar levels present in the body may impact a worker’s decision making process.

“Learners with less energy may be at a disadvantage in a workplace group training, particularly at times of the day which are incompatible with their sugar digestion,” he said.

“Instead, offering the opportunity for remote learning at a time of their choosing allows all learners to best match the mode and context of learning to their own unique pattern, providing them with the best chance of comprehension.”

LaFontaine added that with online learning, there are no limitations to accessibility.

“Learners can access their course at their own pace, in the environment in which they feel the most comfortable to learn and not be judged,” he said.

“I would argue that e-learning is probably more inclusive and liberating than a classroom could ever be.”

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