Can You e-Learn at Your Desk?

Elliott Masie is constantly polling readers of his Learning Trends online newsletter on interesting questions related to workplace learning. One survey asked “Can workers really e-Learn at their desks?” In other words, can they fit eLearning into their daily tasks at their workstations without having to do it at home, or before or after the workday, or in some quiet designated eLearning space in the workplace? Masie got some interesting responses, with opinion divided, and many responding with a “depends,” and then listing those conditions in which it generally will or will not work.

The “pro” side arguments tended to be centred around the following points:

  • We all multitask all day, every day, why couldn’t eLearning fit into this mix?
  • We tend to learn best in small chunks anyway, and can fit this into our working day while at our desks
  • Finding time to squeeze eLearning into your schedule is simply a matter of making an appointment with yourself and putting everything else aside while you do it

The “anti” side arguments tended to be centred around the following points:

  • There are far too many distractions (e.g. email, phone, instant messages, pagers, bosses, co-workers, etc.) in most workplaces to be able to concentrate on deep learning while at your desk
  • There is no such thing as “do not disturb” in the modern workplace, you are “always available,” so forget about the “schedule time for yourself” argument
  • You need quiet time away from all the noise, distractions, and interruptions of your workstation to make real progress with eLearning

Myself….I tend to side with the “depends” crowd (leave it…it’s too easy). Some eLearning is clearly meant to be accessed on-demand, as needed, at the desk. Things like just-in-time embedded electronic performance support systems (e.g. mini tutorials on how to use certain software, or how to conduct certain business processes) are clearly designed for at-your-desk learning.

However, I really do not think that learning that requires a great deal of thinking, reflection, discussion, and competency development works while you are trying to squeeze it in among phone calls, reading and responding to emails, and having chats with whomever happens to come by your desk. Any learning wherein the objective is to change attitudes or behaviours or develop complex competencies, really works best when there is a chunk of time dedicated to it, and when it is done away from the chaos of one’s workstation. We work in a culture of hyper communication and hyper activity that is not conducive to deep learning, self-reflection and practice.

I have seen many great eLearning initiatives come a cropper because someone in charge thought that the targeted learners could squeeze it in while juggling a dozen other projects during the workday. We think nothing of giving people a number of days away from their desks to attend conferences where they are merely talked at for three days straight, yet find it strange to carve out a few hours of quiet time for them to complete some interactive and self-reflective eLearning.

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