Are there some things that an online course can’t teach?

A lot of the talk around services like GLEAN and Lynda.com focuses on ‘Hard Skills’, which is to say, skills that are easily defined and measurable such as the ability to create a spreadsheet in excel or a webpage in HTML. For me there’s really nothing more fun than learning new tricks like these but the truth is these ‘Hard Skills’ are only part of our job here in Library Land. When it comes to working with patrons and our fellow Library Elves we still rely on ‘Soft Skills’, those that are more nebulous and harder to pin down.

For us perhaps the most important of these is Customer Service, and as an enthusiastic e-learning exponent I found myself wondering can E-Learning be used for a skill like this?

Teaching a Soft Skill like customer service often proves problematic for a number of reasons. For one, there’s really no way of telling after completing such training how effective it was. Even if there is a marked improvement following the training, it’s very easy to fall back into old habits after time. People are also often resistant to it, feeling that they either know everything that’s being said already or that such training implies they don’t know how to do their job. When it comes to Soft Skills, e-learning modules also tend to offer a one size fits all solution that doesn’t always apply directly to a given workplace.

These problems however do not mean that E-Learning cannot be a valuable tool when it comes to Soft Skills; it just means that it cannot be used in a vacuum.

Set aside time for employees to meet and discuss the program. Let people talk about the parts they found interesting or effective, and the freedom to criticize the parts they didn’t. Sometimes you learn more by actively picking something apart than by passively absorbing the information. Could any part of the training have applied to a past experience? This can be an opportunity for those who took less from the training to learn from those who took more from it, and for employees to learn from others experiences.

For managers, GLEAN has the handy feature of allowing you to individually assign training to employees and giving them a timeframe to complete it. This can be a huge help when it comes to scheduling by giving employees the freedom to fit the training into their schedule and take it at their own pace, reducing the need to have employees attend a training session together and possibly leave a desk understaffed.

This feature also makes it easy to see how long it’s been since staff have participated in training and to assign refresher courses to promote constant learning and development, the best way to ensure the training sticks and people don’t fall back into old habits.

Like all education, you get as much out of E-Learning as you put in. So long as you’re ready to engage with it in a meaningful way, there is an abundance of online content that can be an invaluable resource for almost anything you want to learn.