Learner Control in E-Learning: To Each, His Own

Topic: Training
Publication: International Journal of Training and Development
Article: The perplexing role of learner control in e-learning: Will learning and transfer benefit or suffer?
Authors: B. P. Granger & E. L. Levine
Publication: International Journal of Training and Development
Reviewed By: Katie Bachman

Score one for the home team! Our very own Ben Granger published an article in the latest issue of the International Journal of Training and Development. Heavy on the theoretical ponderings and empirical research, the article details the pros and cons of giving users control of their training experience in e-learning environments. And honey, he’s got the references to back up his work—90 citations in a little over 15 single-column pages of text!

Learner control refers to a trainee’s ability to manipulate the pace, order, content, and help offered during a training experience. E-learning and learner control are somewhat intertwined because the most lauded aspects of e-learning (e.g., time flexibility, adaptability to individuals, etc.) are often only possible when trainees have control over their own learning. The article details the positive and negative aspects of learner control on the amount of information learned, the satisfaction individuals have with their training experience, transfer of training, and participation in training, just to name a few.

The pros are what you would expect: trainees get a customized experience where they can spend the time they need to explore options, learn new skills, and engage with the training materials.

The cons (more realistic, in my opinion): people are often busy, lazy and bad at self-regulation. While trainees may actually require extra time to complete a training module, giving them no time limits and control over content pretty much ensures that some will cut corners whether intentionally (just to have it over and done with) or unintentionally (overestimate how much they have learned or already know). What’s more, in complex learning tasks, more learner control can be a detriment to learning and performance.

E-learning is more than the next wave in employee training—it’s a tsunami that will eventually overrun the city of Training-ville. Like all forces of nature, proceed with caution and bring appropriate equipment. In this case, understand the advantages of learner control, but prepare for the disadvantages. Otherwise, you are likely to be dealing with what those in the e-world refer to as a PEBKAC* situation.

*PEBKAC: problem exists between keyboard and chair

Granger, B. P. & Levine, E. L. (2010). The perplexing role of learner control in e-learning: Will learning and transfer benefit or suffer?International Journal of Training and Development, 14, 180-196.