In Transition: Online Courses Aren’t Real School

I collect unemployment benefits which means that every two weeks I have to “certify” I’m still unemployed and that I’m still looking for work. This certification takes the form of answering a series of questions either online or over the telephone.

One of the questions I must answer is along the lines of “Did you attend school or training during this period?” Since I’m taking 3 graduate-level courses, 2 weeks ago I answered Yes. And that’s where the problems began.

After back and forth and all types of hassle, what I learned is this – “since you’re taking online courses, you aren’t attending a real school”. What the unemployment department meant is that I wasn’t in a brick and mortar building.

Since I’m taking online courses, I’m not attending a real school. And in a larger sense, that’s the problem, isn’t it?

As learning and development professionals, we spend time and effort to design and create good e-learning.  We spend money on the latest e-learning software and then even more time learning to use that software. We network with other e-learning professionals, and we invoke adult learning theories, and e-learning theories and best practices. All of that, and the perception is still “online courses aren’t real school”.

And for those of us in the corporate world, how many times have we heard, “well, let’s just create some e-learning until they can come to the training session/induction/new-hire orientation and ‘really’ learn it”. Once again, the message is that online courses aren’t real school.

How do we change this perception? I have no idea.

What I do know is that we, learning and development professionals, are partly to blame. Every time we’re asked to create that e-learning to tide people over until they can come to an ILT and “really” learn it, we’re perpetuating this belief. Every time we create bad e-learning, we’re helping this thought grow deeper into the psyche of people. “Online courses aren’t real school.”

Every single one of us has made that compromise between what we know is best for our learners and the time-frame or resources allotted to us to do the training. Why do we make that compromise? It benefits no one. Bad e-learning is a waste of time and resources for everyone. When asked to create bad e-learning, say that. Tell people its a waste of money. Be honest. Otherwise you’re just feeding into the “online courses aren’t real school” myth.

Oh, you know they’ll fight back. You’ll hear things like:

  • “But at least they’ll be familiar with the concepts when they come to training or class.” Or
  • “Something is better than nothing.” Or my favorite,
  • “But it’ll be a good reference resource for everyone.”

You know these statements are false – you know it in your gut, and you can pull out mountains of research to prove it. In the words of Nancy Reagan, Just Say No.

Be honest – you know learners won’t be familiar with the concepts because you know bad e-learning doesn’t result in a transfer of knowledge. Say so and pull out research to prove it!

Be honest. You know that using your time and effort  to create something that won’t be remembered 5 minutes after completion is much much worse than having nothing. What the organization has lost is your time – how many hours did you spend creating this bad e learning, and what is your hourly rate? That money is gone forever from the organization. The organization has also lost all the work-hours of each person sitting through the horrific course. And if they can’t remember a thing about it in a week, then the company might as well just have paid them to sit and stare at a wall. Say so and pull out research to prove it!

Be honest because you know people don’t access bad e-learning as a reference. If you’ve just put a powerpoint up on your intranet and called it e-learning, how can the learners quickly and easily find the nugget of information they need? How can they easily print it or share it with others? How do they even know where to look for the information? Bad e-learning, by it’s very definition, is un-organized, un-searchable, and un-sharable. It cannot and will not be used for reference, and you must show that! Just ask the person you’re talking to the last time they used an e-learning course as reference material.

All I’m asking is that you fight the good fight when someone asks you to create bad e-learning.

The consequences to your organization can be measured in lost productivity and dollars.

The consequences to our profession are felt each time we hear “online courses aren’t real school”.

About Tricia Ransom

Patricia Ransom: wife, daughter, friend. Learning, laughing, living. Chicago, Illinois, downstate. Townie, urbanite, traveller. Note: The opinions expressed on this blog belong solely to me and should not be assumed to reflect the opinions of any of my employers past, current, or future.
This entry was posted in In Transition, learning and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

4 Responses to In Transition: Online Courses Aren’t Real School

  1. Ray Colon says:

    Hi Patricia, I’ve experienced some of the same frustrations in regard to eLearning. I understand that government agencies, like unemployment offices, are slow to adapt to change, but one would think that on-line graduate courses would be recognized as being no different than courses taught in brick and mortar classrooms. As long as the institution is accredited, there should be no question as to the authenticity of the learning.

    The benefits of eLearning are many, especially for adults who are focused on the attainment of knowledge while eschewing the other, more social, aspects of a college education. For eLearning to still be thought of as less than, is to simply not recognize the success stories of many who have chosen this option for personal development. Ray


  2. urbie says:

    it is real school.

    what they’re really saying is that if you had been going to a brick and mortar school you wouldn’t be available for work; this would have the effect of halting your unemployment checks.


    • Patricia Ransom says:

      Hi Urbie,

      That’s what they explained. The question “did you attend classes, school, or training” should better be worded “did you attend any events such as training, seminars, etc. that prevented you from having access to job search resources.”

      I think that the department hasn’t quite caught up with the times. It is entirely possible for me to be in a classroom with my smartphone and still job-searching on the internet job boards. I think an even better question would be “how many hours did you spend this week looking for work or upskilling yourself”.

      Regardless of my opionions of the bureaucracy of unemployment, that comment struck a nerve with me. I do believe that many people still feel e-learning isn’t as good as face-to-face. That perception is changing, I know it is, but I think that we as L&D professionals can do a better job in helping with that perception change.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s