To quickly scale training globally, e-learning surely is the answer. Today’s global landscape is driving this need. And … as organizations transition from instructor-led training to self-paced e-learning, it’s easy to forget two principles – structure and social rewards. Somehow, these two important components for learning were literally left in the classroom. Allow me to explain.

Which is more important?

I recall a conversation with a training colleague in India. I asked her which is more important, library or school. She replied: school. Her rationale: a library only contains books. However, a school provides books with structure and support. In the adult learning world, we have launched millions of e-learning programs; and that is comparable to building thousands of libraries and expecting everyone to learn. Libraries do contain enough knowledge for one to reach PhD levels. So why aren’t folk flooding this easily available resource — the library? For the average learner, a library lacks the structure that a school provides.

In addition to the lack of structure, libraries (no talking, quiet please, no cell phones) also lack the social interaction that all learners need to facilitate the learning process. Much of our e-learning today suffers from this same lost ingredient – a lack of interaction with other learners. Perhaps social learning provides this missing ingredient – peer-peer learning.

When I refer to the importance of structure, it is not solely the class schedule that a school provides. Structure also refers to the sequential learning process that includes practice and feedback. And while practice may not be critical when gaining basic knowledge, practice and feedback are especially critical when learning skills, defined as applied knowledge. In other words, e-learning provides the “what” component; but sometimes misses the “how”. Perhaps a couple of questions illustrate this point:

Do you know how to ride a bicycle? And how did you learn?

You probably did not learn by page turning through the “manual” that came with your unassembled bike. You learned through trial and error, practice and feedback. If like most adults you recall falling off a bike, you will remember the immediate if negative “feedback”. And yes, coaching should be added here. We learn skills by trial, error, adjustments and practice.

In a blended learn­ing approach, the baseline knowledge is obtained via e-learning. Then, this is followed by interactive skill practice, in a workshop. If you choose the right program — one that builds skill prac­tice into the online component — and fol­low that up with class­room prac­tice, then you’ve got the best of both worlds. For exam­ple, Impact Learn­ing Sys­tems’ cus­tomer ser­vice skills train­ing course or cus­tomer ser­vice course for tech­ni­cal sup­port reps, each have e-learning learn­ing and class­room review fol­lowed by 21 days of on-the-job activ­i­ties to trans­fer learn­ing to the job. Library or School – the answer is not “or”; the answer is “and” – self-paced e-learning and synchronous classroom learning.