It’s possible that a business problem you have cannot be solved by eLearning. Or by any type of learning, for that matter. You probably don’t expect to hear this from CCS. We’re an eLearning services vendor, after all.  But just as you wouldn’t want your doctor to prescribe heavy and expensive medication of questionable value for a problem you could solve just by changing your lifestyle, nor should an honest eLearning vendor talk you into an investment that won’t bring the expected ROI.  

Remember the raison d’être of eLearning 

Let’s first agree that eLearning must solve business problems or improve business operations. Otherwise, why would a business spend money on eLearning in the first place? But eLearning only solves business problems that stem from learning problems. 

Is your business problem a learning problem? Don’t look for a yes or no answer here; the modern workplace is complicated, and the problems we face are multifaceted. So, let’s rephrase: is your business problem a learning problem, at least in large part? If yes, eLearning might be the answer, or at least part of the answer. If not, it’s money down the drain. 

Enter Bob Mager & Peter Pipe 

In their book Analyzing Performance Problems (which was published nearly 40 years ago, but remains every bit as relevant today), American academics Mager and Pipe provide a thought process for determining whether training is really needed. They propose that for any given performance problem, we should first ask ourselves a number of (often tough) questions. These need to be answered truthfully before we allocate budget to any learning initiative. 

Cementing performance  

Before looking at a few of these questions, let’s think of an example business problem – otherwise we’ll get lost in abstraction. Here it is:  

We are a cement production company. Our engineers operate machinery which processes raw clinker and turns it into cement powder. They’re not using this machinery efficiently. This leads to excess use of fuel, which costs the company approximately $300,000 annually.  

Think of a similar problem you’re facing, if you want. The questions that need to be asked are more or less the same. 

  • Do we really need to close this performance gap? 

In the above case, absolutely. We’re losing a lot of money year after year, and an eLearning initiative which alleviates the situation would be a good investment. 

But asking yourself ‘what would happen if we did nothing’ is a good start when considering a learning initiative as a response to a performance gap. Perhaps performance is not perfect, but satisfactory. 

  • Do people know what’s required? 

Of course they do, they’re engineers. Sure. But do they really know? When was the last time you told them how to use the machinery and what the performance targets are? If they haven’t been reminded in a long time, a fresh look at your existing documentation might actually be enough. A clearly worded email listing the desired performance data could go down well, too. 

  • Do people have what they need? 

Is the machinery properly maintained? Are the computer systems used for operation updated with the latest software and working properly? Are job aids, such as process diagrams, readily available? You distinctly remember putting up a poster in each operations room showing the exact steps that need to be performed, but is it still there? Are people comfortable and safe in the operations room? Do they have coffee and cookies? If they lack the basics, just provide them. 

  • Do people get valuable feedback? 

You know that the machinery is being used inefficiently, but do they know? Do they get detailed feedback on what they do? Does the software provide warnings about inefficient use of the machinery? If not, upgrade it. Does a supervisor or manager point out things they do wrong and remind them how to do them right?  If not, upgrade the supervisor. 🙂

  • Is good performance punishing?  

A couple of years ago, we had Helen. Helen was a really cool engineer. She was one of the few operators who used the machinery efficiently. So we gave her the task of supervising others on top of what she was already doing. A few months later, exhausted from the almost constant overtime and high pressure, Helen quit. Nobody seems to have used the machinery efficiently since. eLearning won’t help you here. Having seen what happens to good performance, people are actually afraid to do well. Fix this. 

  • Are there consequences for poor performance? 

Generally, what is our process for evaluating the work of our engineers? How are they notified that their work isn’t good enough, and what happens to the ones that don’t improve? In our experience, a lot of the time the answer to this question is absolutely nothing. You might believe that your colleagues are noble enough to pursue good performance simply inspired by your company vision, but… probably not. Nobody likes it, but consequences for poor performance must be in place. 

M&P evaluation as part of ADDIE 

ADDIE is the most widely used eLearning implementation model. A proper Mager & Pipe evaluation should be part of the “A”, which stands for analysis. It’s not as quick and dirty as asking the questions we listed above, but it’s totally worth the time and effort. It often results in an action plan that is cheaper and easier to implement than developing an eLearning course.  

That’s the reason we strongly recommend it to all clients who come to us with a request for eLearning development. If it turns out that they don’t really need eLearning, there’s no contract for us. True. But they appreciate the process, the often eye-opening findings, and the money and time we saved them. And they always come back with other eLearning initiatives they are considering. 

So everyone’s a winner, and we’ve established a working relationship based on trust – the kind everyone wants and needs. 

Questions? Comments? We’d love to hear from you! 

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