What is the difference between elearning and online training?
Most people use these terms interchangeably, but I tend to think of online training as something you take, while elearning is something that happens to you when you’re lucky enough to learn something online.
I make that distinction because so much of what is generously called online training is hard to take. It’s dull, lifeless, and boring, in a way that only online training can be boring. Worst of all, it’s useless. But it doesn’t have to be.
It all begins with finding the right teachers, of course. Teaching an online training course is very different than teaching a group of students in a classroom. Some people, even some very competent people, simply aren’t cut out to be online trainers. So the trick is to find experts, real-world professionals who live and breathe what they’re trying to teach you, who are able to do so effectively even at the other end of a video stream that was recorded asynchronously (in other words, before you see it).
Once you’ve solved the biggest problem, which is finding the best teachers for online training, you still have several technical problems to solve to produce online training that actually yields elearning.
Pedagogical theory teaches us that different people learn in different ways, and we ourselves learn differently at different stages of our lives, and with different types of topics. Well-crafted online training should take all of that into account.
For example, for those who learn best by watching, video training is ideal. But the training needs to be so well produced that it seems to come alive. It should be well shot, well edited, high definition, and include special effects where appropriate, just like our favorite primetime TV shows. Granted, I’m biased toward what I call prime-time quality because I tend to learn best from videos. The higher the quality, the more engaging I find the training, and the more likely I am to actually learn something.
Of course, not everyone cares for video, so effective training should also offer engaging audio, again well recorded, well produced, and professionally edited— prime-time audio, if you will. In other words, it should sound great on your audio system, even though it’s “just” online training. The better it sounds, the more the “audio learner” is likely to learn.
But good online training should also provide something to read, something that allows the learner to follow along with the audio and video. That’s trickier than it seems. If you’ve ever been in a gym or in a bar and tried to watch the closed captions scrolling across the bottom of a TV program, you know how hard it is for even well-heeled, prime-time networks to translate spoken words into text on the fly. The results can be annoying, and sometimes downright ridiculous.
Unfortunately, online training providers tend to use the same kind of voice recognition technology that you see in your gym or your bar to produce the transcripts of their training. That’s assuming they offer transcripts at all; most don’t. It’s awfully hard to read that kind of transcript, full of gibberish and misinterpreted words, and even harder to try to use it to follow along with the video and the soundtrack. For those who like to learn by reading, a mistake or an absurd word substitution can deflect their train of thought into an entirely new direction that jumps the tracks of what they’re trying to learn. Low-quality transcripts actually impede learning.
Only a handful of training providers are willing to go the extra mile to edit their transcripts, word for word, correcting mistakes introduced by voice recognition technology. It’s time intensive and expensive to do so, but it’s more than worth it because it yields two substantial benefits. First, it makes the transcript readable. There’s something almost magical about being able to read along with someone who is teaching you something you want to learn, and getting it all word for word just as he or she is speaking it. Imagine if you were in a classroom listening to the teacher explain something, and you had everything that person was saying, word for word, right in front of you. (Boy, if I’d had that when I was in school I might have made something of myself.)
But there’s another benefit of high-quality transcripts that can take online training to a new level, and facilitate elearning in such a way as to cross the border into something new under the sun, something akin to a new breed of on demand, always on, expert tech support.
If the transcripts in an online training library are accurate representations of what the teachers actually say in all those videos, then with the right technology you can search that text just like you search Google, to find the specific information you most need to learn, or review, at the very moment you need it. That allows online training to morph from the classical training model of sitting down and taking a class for a couple of hours, into a 21st-century model of learning exactly what you need, exactly when you need it. On time, on target, and on demand, 24/7.
A library of training videos with high quality, searchable transcripts can become a knowledge base unlike anything the world has ever seen before. Suddenly, you have random access to what experts have to say on a range of topics and information that can open up whole new worlds for you. And with the right technology, once you find the information you need, all you have to do is to click a link to be transported directly to that spot in that video, where you’re able to watch/hear/read those few minutes of training you actually need, rather than having to wade through potentially hours of training that you don’t need. That kind of random access, just-in-time training feels like you’re able to summon a guru to your desk or mobile device whenever you need to learning something, wherever you are, 24 hours a day. It’s like having a training genie, without having to carry around the magic lamp. Pretty cool, and pretty useful, assuming you can find an online training provider who can actually pull all this off.
So back to where I started this post. There is an enormous amount of what passes for online training available on the Internet. Probably millions of hours. But there is a vast chasm between taking online training and actually learning something. That’s what I mean by elearning. (Or e-learning, or e learning, or however you want to spell it.)