7 Challenges of online learning | HMA

7 Challenges of online learning

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Learner flexibility is recognised as a key need for fast changing workplaces. Keeping up with new ideas is challenging for all of us. E-learning provides us with an efficient and cost effective way to keep our workforce growing in confidence and competence around skills and knowledge. But there are downsides and challenges to overcome.

  1. Making the materials accessible and interesting. A colleague said that their experience of e-learning was being put down in front a number of PowerPoint slides and then told to read these through. They said very quickly they moved away and found something much more interesting to focus upon. E-learning, like any other effective transmission of ideas, requires interactivity between the learner and the content. Like any learning we need to engage our various learning styles.
  2. Lack of structure. Many workers, who are used to training in a more structured formalised classroom, when left to their own devices, struggle with being able to work in a self-paced manner. Learning, like any other task, requires scheduled time to ensure that the momentum of the learning is maintained.  Developing a study/work schedule will assist in being able to focus rather than seeing learning as an add-on, something to be fitted in around other ‘more important’ tasks.
  3. Lack of organisational support. Support for learning within an organisation is everybody’s responsibility from the team leader through to our colleagues. Colleagues may not even be aware that a worker is undertaking an e-learning course. Letting others know what you are doing, when you are doing it, and what you need from them, i.e. not being interrupted, can bring them on board with what you’re doing. Talking with others at breaks about what you are learning, will also engage colleagues to help you consolidate your own learning.
  4. Technical difficulties. We have all become frustrated with technology. The wonderful thing now about e-learning is the range of tools that are now currently available. Much learning can occur not just on desktops but on mobile devices – phones, tablets. Sometimes however download speed can be frustrating and organisations need to consider the technical aspects before embracing the use of e-learning platforms.
  5. Not enough feedback. One of the challenges of the learning is the amount of feedback on a learner’s performance. Within in-room learning settings, feedback is often immediate in response to discussion, questions, informal testing, and non-verbal cues. A solution to this issue is for learner to try and not struggle but to reach out early for assistance from the helpdesk or course supervisor when problems emerge.
  6. Encouraging coming back. ‘I will get back that that’ is something we have all said and the moment is lost. E-learning needs to be innovative and engaging (similar to in-room learning) if we want learners to keep coming back. ‘What is in it for me and am I getting benefit’ is the litmus test for all learning.
  7. Developing a habit. E-learning is different from much of our experience of in-room learning situations. There are younger learners who have adjusted to this learning environment really well. To others this is a very brave new world. Developing a habit of continuing to engage is the challenge for organisations as we develop a learning culture.


At HMA we have had to consider all of these issues in the recent design of four e-learning packages for the Department of Corrections in Queensland. These packages cover: 1) Introduction to Corrections, 2) Core skills in offender work, 3) Ideas that inform offender intervention, and 4) Immediate Risk Needs Assessment (IRNA).  They collectively cover 40 hours of work.

The first thing that we identified was that a hands-off approach would not work with diverse and distributed workgroup across a large geographical area. To overcome both of these challenges we have decided to do two things: firstly, to develop a mentor’s guide for each learning package and to train mentors from each site on how to support onsite learning; secondly, to run a series of online real time webinars with cohorts of learners. The latter provides an opportunity for the learning group to come together and discuss the sense they are making of the materials with each other and the online tutor. This is being delivered via the WizIQ online learning platform.

We have developed the material using the Totara Learning Management System (LMS) which means that we can utilise to full effect the range of learning aids including online quizzes, video via Vimeo web links and short booklets. In addition learners can maintain their own learning diary where they can track their own thoughts, feelings and reflections. Reflective practice is at the heart of professional practice and this provides a record that they can use to form the basis of discussions with their mentors and online tutor.

In terms of feedback we are also able to mark online work that is either scanned and emailed to us or directly mailed to us. We can then provide feedback and direction to the learner as well as their mentor about further areas of development.

Finally we are able to track learners’ progress within the LMS and if we see them slipping behind their colleagues we can provide gentle and encouraging email reminders to establish the e-learning habit.

E-learning is certainly the way for many agencies to manage the challenges of learning. We have also recently completed a five-day (divided in three and two day training blocks) in-room training design on family violence for the New Zealand Department of Corrections. This will augment the roll-out of a new 26 session community based family violence intervention programme that we designed. As part of this blended learning training, e-leaning occurs at two distinct points in the design: firstly, at pre-training where the programme theory and approaches embedded into the programme design are covered, secondly prior to the second two day training block.  This maximises the amount of time available for in-room learning as well as the responsiveness to the needs of community providers who also often work in a part-time capacity.

This is our response to the 7 challenges to e-learning. Love to hear your experiences.

Published on Wednesday, September 25th, 2013, under Learning & development

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