SCL Meeting Report: E-learning vs Chalk and Talk

July 25, 2013

The meeting’s four speakers discussed e-learning from different perspectives and considered how it compares to more traditional chalk and talk training.  

Lucy Dillon, Director of Knowledge Management at Berwin Leighton Paisner, set the scene by suggesting that chalk and talk isn’t dead but it is evolving and those on the receiving end want their learning to be mobile, social and flexible – all of which benefits are available through e-learning. 

Usha Puri-Dewage, Senior L&D Consultant at Linklaters, spoke about the development of e-learning from the perspective of the law firm. She noted that the reduction in training budgets, the increasing geographic spread of law firms and technological improvements have all contributed to the rise of e-learning.   

Usha outlined the Linklaters’ approach to e-learning. Linklaters has had a dedicated internal e-learning team for two years now.  They classify their e-learning products into three categories: Level 1 – a sharp, short explanation of the law; Level 2 – a module that includes some interaction through video or testing; Level 3 – glossy, high spec production and complex content. Levels 1 and 2 are produced in-house and Level 3 products are produced in partnership with a third-party supplier. Level 2 e-learning makes up 70% of Linklaters’ output and is on topics which can easily be commoditised, such as annual training that does not change and regulatory training. Usha also emphasised the importance of setting out governance in relation to e-learning production, including identifying who is responsible for topics, content and reviewing. 

In response to a question, Usha explained that, after analysis, they have found that the optimum length of an e-learning module is 7 minutes. In order to tackle more complex subjects that take longer than 7 minutes – and to comply with CPD requirements for e-learning – Linklaters produce a series of 9 or 10 related modules of 7 minutes each and only award CPD once someone has completed all of the linked modules.  

Pip Johnson, Director of AdAlta Learning Ltd and a certified e-learning professional, spoke about the e-learning market and e-learning technologies. Pip identified when to use e-learning (a geographically dispersed audience, when an audit trail is required, for content that is unlikely to change, for small amounts of content) and when not to use e-learning (widely varying learner needs or varying prior knowledge, when attitudinal or behavioural change is required, when peer interaction is required). During the Q&A discussion later, there was a debate over whether you could in fact use e-learning for attitudinal or behavioural change. Cathy Mattis noted that she had used videos very effectively to change the attitude of some people who were initially resistant to a project and others in the audience agreed that videos were a very effective way to change and influence behaviour.  

Pip then outlined some trends and best practice in learning technology using statistics from the Towards Maturity Benchmark Report 2012 published by Towards Maturity, an independent research organisation.  The 2012 Report showed that using e-learning rather than traditional learning approaches led to a 25% improvement in delivery time, a 25% improvement in learning reach, a 16% improvement in staff satisfaction and a 22% reduction in cost of training.   

Pip noted that the increase in social media tools and online collaboration means that users are starting to generate their own training content. She suggested that learning and development professionals in the future would need to act as curators of user-generated content as well as producers of content themselves. The Towards Maturity Report and Pip’s own experience show that the use of e-learning technology is increasing year on year and Pip expects this trend to continue. Pip (and the other speakers) suggested that, in particular, we will see a huge increase in the use of video or films in the e-learning environment.  

Pip then identified and demonstrated several e-learning rapid development tools including Articulate Studio, Articulate Storyline, Adobe Captivate, Adobe Flash, Podcasts and others. When choosing a technology, Pip suggested that you need to consider budget (there are free, open source tools and there are server solutions that cost upwards of £10,000), the internal skill base (who will develop the e-learning?), your ambition and the subject matter of the training (IT skills? soft skills? black letter law?). For example, Adobe Captivate is very good for showing users how to do something so it is often used for IT training but a video would be better for training junior lawyers on something like how to take research instructions. 

Finally, Pip mentioned the rise in mobile devices and the growing appetite for mobile e-learning. One of the benefits of e-learning is its flexibility in allowing users to access the training when it suits them and outside core office hours. Increasingly, this means that users would like to access e-learning on mobile devices while commuting. Pip warned that the design and production of mobile e-learning, as well as the technical requirements, were quite different from desk based e-learning and often the same content has to be developed twice – once for laptop/PC access and again for mobile devices.  

The group then heard from Cathy Mattis, Head of Process Improvement at Berwin Leighton Paisner, talking about her own experience of e-learning as a student of a distance learning MBA at Warwick University. Cathy emphasised the convenience and flexibility that online coursework gave her. The Warwick University MBA is 99.5% distance learning and Cathy prefers this in order to manage her work commitments, external commitments and completion of the MBA over two years.  

In addition to the convenience and flexibility, Cathy highlighted the benefit of being able to go back through course material in her own time and at her own pace as a refresher and as a study aid before exams. 

Cathy demonstrated her MBA platform and flagged the high level of interactivity provided on the platform. One of the criticisms of e-learning is that it is passive learning and there is no opportunity for learners to interact. Although the prospect of a test at the end of an e-learning module sharpens the mind, the ability to interact with the presenter and with other learners is often missing from e-learning. Warwick University has overcome this problem by adding social networking tools to its platform and by using a mix of video and more text-based slides. Cathy chats to other students and lecturers on discussion boards and meets regularly with a study group using a webcam. The panel agreed with Cathy that social networking tools were bringing a new level of interaction and vibrancy to e-learning. 

During the discussion session, there was real excitement in the audience about the potential of e-learning. In the end, the panel agreed that, as powerful and cost effective as e-learning is, blended learning using a combination of e-learning, discussion, presentations and social media is the best way to impart learning. 

Rachel Wood is Head of Knowledge at Pinsent Masons.