Sophie Carter works at Komatsu Australia as the Organizational Development Administrator. She works with third party vendors to ensure the eLearning needs of the business and its employees are met as well as identifying new ways to include technology in the professional development of the company as a whole. Sophie is also currently completing her honors thesis as part of the B arts in Organizational Learning at the University of Technology in Sydney. Sophie can be contacted via LinkedIn.
Q. What inspired your work?
The project was a little influenced by my own personal experience, and a little by what I was seeing at work at uni. I’m a millenial myself, and completing a full-time honours program majoring in human resources at the same time as full time work. I have experienced, observed and heard about a lot of different practices that don’t necessarily match what I have been taught at uni.
A lot of people almost assumed that everyone around my age would be completely au fait with any technology thrown in front of them and that this would be a preferred learning method for my generation. Even though the increased exposure to and use of technology is backed up by evidence from multiple studies, it’s not the case that every worker undertaking professional development will be able to effectively learn using technology, or that e-learning will even be their preferred method. I guess that’s the catch-22 of the millennial stereotype. It exists for a reason, but it’s also a broad-brush generalization that doesn’t necessarily apply to everyone that it refers to.
I decided to spend my honours year looking at what factors were causing businesses and individuals to miss the mark with their e-learning programs, particularly for the generation just entering the workforce – Gen Y.
Instead of focussing on what was stopping successful, engaging learning from happening, I adopted an appreciative inquiry approach. Basically, this just meant that as I gathered and started to analyse data, I focused on things participants felt were already succeeding. The idea being that if we build on those successes and harness what makes them great, we’ll be able to improve the future of e-learning and professional development experiences for future generations of workers.
There are loads of case studies and examinations based on cognitive pscyhology that relate to e-learning, but not much research has been directed at the workers and learners – the millenials themselves – and asked them what they enjoy about e-learning. That’s what I’ve tried to do.
Because I wanted to focus on the learners, I haven’t limited myself to one work environment. Participants in the study have come from a broad range of industries in Australia, from construction to finance to healthcare and education.
On top of an examination of the literature that currently exists on e-learning, I conducted three stages of data collection. The first was a web-survey that took around ten minutes for participants to complete. If they wanted to after that, participants could elect to take part in a face-to-face interview that expanded on the things they’d raised in the survey.
Self-selection for the interview brought an overwhelming response. From the 59 respondents in the survey, almost twenty volunteered to do an interview, even though there were only five spots. I also gathered documents from the people who’d already contributed to any stage of the research. The documents were meant to relate to the courses that they’d referred to in the research, user guides, policies, quick reference cards, faq’s etc. In this way I was able to get an idea for the tools that were being referred to, and how they were designed, giving me a critical insight into the current design approaches being used in workplaces today.
Q. Can you summarize key conclusions, especially ones that may be relevant for corporate trainers trying to engage millenials?
I haven’t finished the data analysis yet, so the full results will be published in a paper through the National Centre for Vocational Education Research (NCVER) later this year, but already I’ve had some interesting results returned as part of a ‘first impressions’examination of the data.
Across all the stages of research there seems to be a pretty broad range of attitudes to e-learning. It seems some millenials are confident approaching e-learning, and do prefer it as an option for professional development. Others have a lot of hesitation in learning new technologies before they can learn new content relating to their profession.
However, one thing does seem to be consistent across most of the participants that took part in the research. Most millenials recognised, and thought it worth mentioning that they recognise businesses don’t necessarily adopt e-learning as a delivery method for its learning related merits, rather the perceived lower costs and ease of administration. This has been particularly clear with the compliance related training courses. Multiple participants noticed that the design strategies and assessment techniques used in the compliance courses that they were taking, were in large part aimed at getting mass positive results quickly.
Answers were clearly indicated throughout the course and there were few penalties for not passing the courses. In fact, one interview participant stated that she preferred the learning she had to do when she didn’t pass a compliance course, because she was given more detailed, engaging information and activities to do as a ‘punishment’.
More than one participant questioned whether the organizations that were obligating them to complete these courses designed them in a way specifically to ensure that the maximum positive results were returned, regardless of whether learning took place. As a result of these experiences some scepticism was expressed as part of an attitude toward e-learning for work.
On the other hand, participants also recognized the potential positives of the future that e-learning could have. Anecdotally, positive attitudes towards e-learning increased where freedom of control over course content, pace and level of interaction were given to the learner.
I believe these are crucial aspects to pay attention to when developing e-learning courses in the future, particularly where the option exists to include these in compliance programs. Organisations can benefit from giving more control over pace and interaction to their employees in certain contexts, and these benefits of e-learning are already recognised as benefits for businesses.
It also seems like there is a growing group of millenials who prefer to learn online as opposed to other methods, and an even larger group of young professionals who recognize the benefits of blending multiple delivery methods together. I’m looking forward to seeing the products and courses that develop in the future that cater to these learning preferences than we’re already seeing in the market today.
Some questions that I have started asking myself since starting the project, but won’t have a chance to answer yet, are how e-learning can better deal with engagement in compliance programs, how technology and e-learning confidence can be built in those who show hesitation toward learning online, and how businesses can better recognize and take advantage of informal, social learning that employees undertake in their own time.