What Is Not A Direct Benefit To Learners From Businesses Using Online Learning

This article is sponsored by Education National. The opinions expressed are not necessarily those of the editor.

Businesses have been scrambling to figure out how to best utilize digital learning to foster digital integration, but the results may not be as profound as you might think.

The premise of online learning and business is fundamentally simple. Adopt a radically different method of continuing education; engage with a larger community for a common goal; teach offline and more effectively; and benefit from economies of scale. It’s the digital low-hanging fruit that gets drenched in overused acronyms like MOOCs (massive open online courses), Platform-as-a-Service (PoaaS), and Digital Content Management.

There is a method to this madness, however. It’s not that simple.

In my study of Digital Learning, I focused specifically on business. The best applications of online learning work because they scale and inspire, not because they are inexpensive. Their low cost doesn’t necessarily manifest itself in scope, speed, or completion.

Our small study of 50,000 online courses found that in order to be a viable business, learning means a solid B+ (functional grades). Better yet, active learners can predict where they are in their learning journey and learn that way.

Too often, I read stories of students who have spent countless hours studying in a business school’s online classroom, and have failed to complete that course in two years. In reality, they passed most of the courses and they continue to see a positive outcome after graduation. Why do students fail?

For some, they fail to maximize their business potential. They miss the opportunity to learn via the intimate education of peer-to-peer interaction. The learning with face-to-face contact really does lead to higher productivity.

Many online business courses are just plain not well-designed. The structure’s usability, ease of navigation, and focus on speed and efficacy are absent when compared to my theory. They are too task-focused, too focused on navigation, and too easy to skip or get lost in the weeds of their demands.

Of course, business is also about sales and profitability, and has been for millennia. Digital learning is no different; it’s just less expensive. My scenario with consumers who failed to graduate is just like a consumer who chooses to pick the low-hanging fruit over cheaper savings at the grocery store: Businesses who try to jump on the bandwagon of low-cost online learning should think twice before doing so.

Once companies have adopted digital learning strategies into their organizations, they get to the point where the next challenge is actually bringing the learning back from the classroom to their employees. It’s a genuine learning institution.

In economics, we’ve argued that when you learn a problem, you make improvements (useful adaptations) based on that knowledge that can then be propagated across a variety of domains. When we make accurate and useful innovations, people on the platform can offer services and products that benefit a larger number of individuals than those individuals make up.

Businesses, it’s clear, should have a long-term view of learning, and the value of learning across disciplines. Here’s my hope, for the country and the world in general: That users of digital learning platforms will advocate for the importance of product training for critical tech skills that businesses desperately need. That businesses will recognize value in providing access to jobs for adults and for veterans who are training to be new tech workers.

Maybe the price of the digital ecosystem won’t come down, but corporate responsibility for digital skills training does. Small businesses, why don’t you care? You can learn to use new technologies. You can learn how to do it cheaper. By knowing how, you can become a loyal and productive employee. Now it’s up to you.

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