Is E-Learning A Tick Box Exercise?

By Eddie Allan, Training Manager at Data Protection People

I would like to pre-empt this blog by stating that the following observations are based on experiences I have had in developing and delivering training in the last 25 years, where eLearning has been a significant component

Whilst working in the area of workplace learning, for various organisations, there is one recurring theme that keeps emerging from the Data Protection Lead/DPO that I am speaking to and that is:

‘We want our staff to understand what they are learning and be able to use it in the workplace…and that doesn’t appear to be happening!!.

On further discussion, this is coupled with the knowledge that the individuals are learning solely via eLearning and with a form of online self-assessment (quiz).  It is common to observe that the learner may have retained the ‘information’ short term (a couple of weeks/months) and that invariably is coupled with a real lack of ‘understanding’ of the taught topics. The ‘information’ aspect of it then wanes, in the mid to long term, even with refresher training (which is invariably the same modules repeated 1 to 2 years later).

The Data Protection Lead/DPO will then say:

‘We want to get away from this tick box exercise’

While eLearning via a Learning Management System, whether hosted by the organisation or accessed in an off-shelf environment, is a very easy way to ‘show’ that that learner has an understanding off that subject, it invariably is quite short term and learners, by their own admission,  recount ‘well I did the eLearning module but I didn’t really get it ‘and/or ‘didn’t retain it.

I have had recounted that the learner, who regularly repeats refresher training, has memorised (noted) which selections to make in the self-assessment when they retake.

In the area of Data Protection which, let’s admit it, has got a reputation (not fairly so I think) for being a hard concept to grasp and understanding the detail quite taxing.  It is incredibly important that those Data Protection Professionals, who deliver training, make the delivery :

  • ◉ Engaging
  • ◉ Relevant
  • ◉ Ensure the learner has an ‘understanding’ of what they have learnt for the longer term

I feel that in the current climate, where eLearning is so attractive to organisations, (to show their staff are ‘trained’) is that the real way that we will change the understanding of Data Protection, for a workforce,  is for a blended/hybrid learning approach.

I regard blended/hybrid learning as a multi-faceted approach to delivery. While eLearning is easily accessible and easily deliverable, it needs to be coupled with a tutor-led approach in a remote (Hybrid) or Face to Face 2 (Blended) delivery usually in groups, where questions can be asked, scenarios can be explored and interaction can take place. Also to include other forms of delivery to the learner, podcasts, newsletters etc, it doesn’t all have to happen in one session and should include a regular ‘drip feed’ of updates and additional knowledge over their working life.

This is coupled with a form of assessment, to challenge the understanding and knowledge of the learner by applying that newly acquired knowledge, to possible situations they may encounter in the environment where it is applicable. This will ultimately help the learner better ‘understand’ what they need to know and do.

DPPs approach:

  • ◉ What is the background…the rules, the law
  • ◉ How does it manifest itself in the workplace, what really happens in the learner’s job role, and how do they recognise it.
  • ◉ Show what they need to do when it occurs and where can they get access to references to ensure they are doing the right thing (Policies/Procedures etc)
  • ◉ Show they have understanding (using relevant assessment)

I think the first most important step in developing an overall culture of Data Protection in the Workplace, is the understanding and the application of the topic. We will only do it effectively by a Blended/Hybrid approach where we can make it as relevant to the learner’s role as possible, challenge their understanding and make it very clear what they need to do in their workplace

You may get the idea that I am anti eLearning but that is not the case. I think we need to include several delivery models, (including eLearning where relevant) to engage and enthuse the learner so that they learn and retain the concepts and knowledge they have been taught.

Here’s a thought…

We currently, in the UK, have a driving test that includes a Theory and Practical aspect which includes online learning and the physical driving lessons (many in some cases) to achieve competence. Would you be happy getting in the car with someone that hasn’t had any ‘driving lessons’ and has just learned to drive from online learning and has passed their theory test only?

Makes you think, doesn’t it!!!

Eddie Allan – Training Manager