Elearning Cultural Adoption Factors

This posting is a summary of a discussion I facilitated with the Metro Milwaukee Society for Human Resource Management Performance & Development committee during their July ’09 meeting.

I was in a discussion recently with several corporate learning professionals and some Gen. Y folks.

We were discussing the application of Web 2.0 tools for learning, specifically the integration of Wiki’s as a post-training tool that learners could use as reference and best practice sharing sites.  The L&D pro’s were adamant, “We couldn’t allow that!  How could we control the accuracy of the information being shared?”  One of the younger folks replied, “You guys have been sharing bogus information at the water cooler and the lunch room for years, why does it bother you now?  At least this way you can see what we’re sharing!” 


We were stunned by the obvious logic and the clarity of the point.  As I reflected on this exchange over the next few weeks, it dawned on me that the ground has shifted under the Training & Development department!  In the last few years, driven by the wide-spread adoption of Web 2.0 technologies, the factors that can impact the success/failure of an elearning deployment have changed radically from what they’ve been historically. 

A brief survey of Technology-Enabled Learning / Elearning history

  • Gen. 1 – Laserdisc; specialized delivery systems(mid-80’s)
  • Gen. 2 – CD-ROM; desktop PC delivery (1990’s)
  • Gen. 3 – Intranet-based; Workplace or home PC delivery/Learning Management Systems (LMS) (2000’s)
  • Gen. 4 – Internet-based, Web 2.0 (e.g., Wiki, YouTube, Podcast, Simulations, Twitter);  PDA/Smartphone delivery/Learning Content Management Systems (LCMS)

Summary of Current Trends:

  • Unprecedented cost pressure on business (travel & training impact)
  • Training design shifting from discrete events to distributed-over-time
  • Control shifting from Training Dept. to Learner
  • Cost of technology-enabled training production & deployment dropping
  • Complexity of learning content management increasing
  • Workplace generational gaps/differences with technology widening

Cultural adoption issues for Gen. 1 thru Gen. 3

For the first three generations of technology-enabled training, it was the training department on the cutting-edge of technology.  Their job included not only the development and deployment of elearning content, but staying abreast of the developments in elearning technology, and the marketing of the technology to their client population as well.   During roll-out of an enterprise-wide elearning application at GE, as recently as 4-5 years ago, these were the typical cultural adoption issues:

  • Inconsistent navigation features from e-course to e-course – None have the comfort of a “book metaphor” (i.e., Table of Contents, Chapters, Index, Visual search, Mark pages with tabs, write in margins/ highlight, etc.).
  • Learner comfort/preference for face-to-face social interaction and value of spontaneous interaction found in a classroom vs. the solo elearning experience
  • Shift from listening/verbal skills/social skills needed in a classroom to reading/writing/technology skills needed for elearning
  • Classroom/off-site training frequently seen as a perquisite – elearning seen as a task
  • Overcoming user frustration with technology glitches and lack of computer  fluency/skills
  • Good time management skills and discipline managing distractions (e.g., Phone, email, drop-ins, boss) required for elearning.   Additionally the psychological benefit of changing venue (going to classroom) for training, helping to refocus attention to learning.

Actual learner feedback; “When I go to a classroom event I make training my A priority and I keep up with my day job before class, during lunch/breaks, after class.  When I’m at my desk, my day job is my A priority and elearning is a C priority – I rarely make the time for it”

Cultural adoption issues for Gen. 4

The wide-spread adoption of Web 2.0 technologies such as Wikis, blogs, social media, YouTube, simulations, smartphones, etc., predominantly by younger (Gen. Y) workers has created a larger “technology gap” for many of the boomers in the workforce who still have the Gen. 1-3 issues described above.   Now we add in a whole new dynamic, the Gen Y folks who bring:

  • Comfort with/preference for Web 2.0/social technologies and elearning rather than face-to-face social interaction
  • Expectations of highly-sophisticated technology experience (i.e. intuitive user interface & fast, glitch-free technology)
  • Different production values on-line content (e.g., cell phone video posted on YouTube is fine as long as it meets acceptable audio/video quality) as opposed to the emphasis on “glitzy” production that is still preferred for Gen. 1-3 elearning to support the internal marketing of it.
  • Widespread adoption of smartphone/PDA technology seamlessly integrated with on-line applications, and expectations of truly anywhere/anytime learning. 


I will continue this discussion in another post soon.  I’d love to hear your comments!

2 responses to “Elearning Cultural Adoption Factors

  1. Bob,

    The gap between what you all Gen 1-3 to Gen 4 is large. The Gen 1-3 group, from my experience, has trouble adapting to the online education programs while the Gen 4 group jumps right in to these programs.

    On the other hand it is the Gen 1-3 group who is managing the Gen 4 group, with the exception of new start-ups and entrepreneurs.

    Now with the hint of Web 3.0 coming this gap will be widened even further. Meaning, there are many opportunities for those in the training industry who will be able to use the Web 3.0 tools to close this gap.

    • John – I totally agree! The cultural and technological gaps are larger than ever. The demographics of the NetGen (approx 50% of the workforce by 2015) and the long-awaited convergence of computer/telephone/television in hand-held devices is an inevitable wave. Some smart companies are trying to get in front of this. Most have their heads in the sand. Sigh… It means we’ll have work if nothing else!

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