To Elearn or to Etrain? That is the Question.

To Elearn or to Etrain? That is the Question.

Elearn or etrain? Really? Is this semantics or a trick question? Actually neither, for to elearn is very different than to etrain — and we are not splitting hairs in making this differentiation. Neither are we trying to change the language of the exploding elearning industry; but we do wish to make a point about how you look at how you intend to have your online training affect your trainees.
If you want to have people learn something you can give them a textbook, a DVD, a video or some other form of non-interactive content and then test them, or not test them, on the subject matter. Using a broad definition of the term, a trainee could “elearn” the seven secrets to outstanding customer service by watching a DVD from an industry guru. On the other hand, for that trainee to be successful in the workplace he or she needs not only to have this knowledge but they need to know how to employ it in real life situations. An irate customer doesn’t want the employee to recite those seven secrets; that customer needs to be calmed by having the customer service rep adequately use those secrets! Only etraining, where skill transfer is the end result, successfully delivers to support that need.

For that trainee to be successful in the workplace he or she needs not only to have this knowledge but they need to know how to employ it in real life situations.

To simplify, we view learning and training as closely related but decidedly different concepts.

Our view is this:

  • think “elearn” when the need is knowledge transfer.
  • think “etrain” when the need goes beyond knowledge transfer to skill transfer and productivity improvement.

For instance, one could argue that a “training” DVD is a form of elearning for the knowledge transfer takes place via a computer. On the other hand, the trainee using a DVD cannot interact with it, i.e., take tests, participate in scenario role playing or receive feedback; this means there is no way to know if the trainee is, upon finishing the course, capable of effectively using the new knowledge in a real life situation.

For that matter, what is accomplished if a trainer simply gathers the digital components of their DVD, uploads them to a SCORM compliant elearning course and then delivers the information via a quality LMS? Our opinion is that the trainer has probably done little more than dispense knowledge (elearn) in a more current technological method. On the other hand, if the trainer’s goal is to not just provide information but to be certain that the trainee embodies the skills to be more productive, the trainer will approach this challenge with a different mindset. They will endeavor to etrain.

The issue is results, enhanced performance. If you etrain your trainees will be:

  • given access to knowledge,
  • highly engaged via real life scenarios,
  • given both corrective and reinforcing feedback as they move through the course,
  • challenged to pass tests in order to proceed and “graduate”,
  • and far better prepared to meet the demands of their jobs.

At the end of the day the fact is that this actually is largely semantics. A bigger fact is that is doesn’t really matter what you call it. We have not redefined learning or training; the above differences have been recognized for decades if not centuries.

What does matter is that the creator of an online course should know where they want to take the trainee and what the best tools are to get them there.

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