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How Well-Designed E-Learning Can Be Life-Saving Work

Creating meaningful online training opportunities that can measure authentic learning may be more important than you think.

To combat human trafficking, for example, key client-facing employees in the business community, such as airline employees, need to be able to rapidly evaluate if someone is a potential victim of smuggling.

The Homeland Security Department (DHS) creates training content for these client-facing employees to learn rapid assessment skills for human trafficking indicators. Although airline employees, for instance, may not be part of the internal DHS workforce, they are key players in fulfilling DHS’ mission. Therefore they are considered the “extended enterprise,” and the agency benefits from equipping them well.

Over the course of piloting e-learning courses to offer this training, the agency learned three things:

1. Organizations need to take full advantage of e-learning capabilities.

“As government agencies, we tend to try to translate traditional in-person learning into an e-learning environment rather than embracing e-learning as a capability,” said Trent Fraizer, Executive Director for Campaigns and Academic Engagement at DHS.

When face-to-face training is simply lifted and shifted to an online platform, the effectiveness of the training declines and the learner is less engaged, Fraizer said at GovLoop’s online training Thursday.

Through e-learning, you can train people, allow them to practice their skills and measure the effectiveness of learning all at the same time. Organizations should take advantage of this to produce authentic learning outcomes.

For example, DHS used to conduct only in-person instruction to train the general public on how to recognize and respond to human trafficking signs. It is now piloting e-learning modules that are scenario-based. Through these scenarios, learners not only absorb information but practice the skills they learn. And e-learning can measure changes in competency levels as users interact with the scenario.

“What not to do is to simply think that whatever you did in person can be delivered online as e-learning and believe it will be effective,” said Steve Dobberowsky, Director of Strategy & Value Services at Cornerstone OnDemand, a learning solutions provider. Both Fraizer and Dobberowsky agreed that e-learning is only as effective as how the content is tailored to engage online learners, not in-person ones.

2. Organizations need to be intentional about their desired learning outcomes from the beginning of the design process.

It’s critical to consider not just how the training happens, but what the training does.

“If you design poorly and you’re not intentional at the outset, then what you designed will not achieve your results, and in some cases will muddle the intended results,” Frazier said.

Without a clear focus on the outcome that agencies want, content can be built that may not produce desired results once it is finished and deployed to learners.

3. Organizations need to measure learning through demonstrable changes in competency.

Metrics that ask the learner’s perspective on the effectiveness of a training are valuable – but not enough.

That is, a survey tool that asks participants’ insights on their abilities is really a “subjective appraisal of an objective reality,” Fraizer said. “I’m asking, ‘Do you feel smarter?’” Which isn’t a complete enough picture to prove whether learners built real-life skills.

“One of the things we need to understand is not just whether they feel smarter, but to actually demonstrate a change in competency,” Fraizer said.

DHS integrates decision tree activities into their e-learning, so participants can apply what they learned and the system can collect data to see behavioral changes that demonstrate growth in competency.

“It’s not likely we’ll return to business as usual in the office – and by extension that means we cannot continue to rely on an in-person, instructor-led environment,” Frazier said. “We have to think about an extended, self-paced learning environment. … We will not be competitive for attracting talent for the future … when we reflect the world of the past.”

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