In today’s fast-paced corporate environment, the quest for effective corporate eLearning solutions is more critical than ever. However, traditional approaches to eLearning, which focus heavily on engagement through aesthetics and gamification, often fall short of their intended performance  outcomes. Drawing from personal experiences and discussions with industry leaders, it’s clear that a deeper understanding of what truly enhances learning is needed now.

The Misguided Translation of Classroom to Digital Platforms

In my extensive conversations with senior leaders across various industries, a common theme emerges: almost everyone still clings to traditional classroom methods as the only method for effective corporate training. What’s worse is that when this format transforms into an eLearning, this often involves converting a lecture-based format directly into an eLearning and tagging on a quiz at the end.

This approach assumes that teaching methods from the centuries past are still the most effective now and that what worked in a physical classroom will be just as effective digitally. However, lecturing, whether in person or online, fails to engage learners in a manner that promotes long-term retention of information. This is because it presents education as a passive experience, expecting learners to absorb information without actively engaging with it. True learning solutions should involve performance-based interventions that actively and cognitively involve the learner, a concept often overlooked in traditional settings.


The Fallacy That Fun Equals Learning

There’s a prevailing belief that if an eLearning course is fun, it must be effective. Yet, time and again, I’ve seen that making courses ‘fun’ with prizes, music, and vibrant colors doesn’t lead to better learning outcomes. For instance, when tasked with mastering a new technical system, these elements would do little to enhance one’s ability to use the new system effectively.

However, if you ask the average employee or manager not in Learning & Development (L&D), they will espouse that “fun” is an important critieria to training.  However, would you trust a non-engineer to judge whether an industrial structure is safe?  Just as other industries have credentialled professionals, L&D professionals know that they bring accurate judgement of what constitutes effective corporate training.

Engaging does not automatically equate to a performance change. Effective learning must go beyond superficial enjoyment and ensure that learners can apply what they have learned to real-world scenarios.


Gamification Without Substance

Gamification is widely touted as a way to make learning more engaging and effective. To put this to the test my daughter and I have been testing Duolingo, a widely heralded success story for engaging training that also leverages AI.  However, after spending over 700 days each on two accounts interacting with the gamified language learning apps Duolingo, we’ve learned that the AI-powered questions served are almost identical.  What’s worse is that we can recognize a handful of easy words and can’t have a conversation whatsoever. Yet, I’ve enjoyed the badging, leaderboard, haptics, cute characters, music and the gamified streak.  Gamified doesn’t equal applicable skills.

I’ve found that these gamified methods often lead to repetitive learning without real progression. While the game elements kept us coming back, they did not translate into a deeper understanding or practical use of the language.

I’ve also seen this in many industry applications. While these corporate training focused platforms can drive short term retention and drive engagement amongst reluctant learners, they don’t lead to lasting behaviour change. These experiences have reinforced my belief that learning needs to be deeply rooted in cognitive engagement and practical application, rather than just gamified repetition.


The Overemphasis on Aesthetic Appeal

A visually appealing interface, while engaging, does not ensure the efficacy of a training program. Courses may be beautifully designed and user-friendly,  yet fail to facilitate lasting performance improvement if they merely replicate traditional lecturing through an e-learning format.

For instance, we see the Masterclass Effect an errant industry gold-standard for digital training.  Masterclass courses, despite their high production values and celebrity endorsements, often leave users struggling to remember or apply the content weeks later. I truly enjoyed passively watching my favourite workplace learning heroes, yet I couldn’t recall what I learned, despite my desire to recall it.

Simply watching the episodes did little to help me recall Dan Pink’s persuasion principles. Even when I tried to engage in the limited social learning platform and my own manual note taking, I found that the lack of application and performance centered design left me without practical skills. Instead, an easy to implement performance-based instructional design approach would have been to have viewers practice each micro-skill the following day. However, TV producers are not instructional designers, and most people think they understand training anyhow from their childhood days.

This overemphasis on visual appeal s reinforced within the Learning and Development (L&D) industry, where aesthetics frequently overshadow substance in competitions, with judges lacking the time required to evaluate true performance impact. Moreover, business decision-makers outside of the L&D sphere often lack the depth of performance-based learning strategy needed to evaluate training effectiveness. As a result, they need to rely on an easy yardstick – visual appeal and user experience.


Redefining Effective eLearning

To truly capitalize on the potential of eLearning, we must shift our focus from merely engaging learners visually and entertainingly to truly enabling them through substantive, performance-based learning experiences. For example, effective learning solutions might involve learning in the flow of work to support systems training, a blended learning program coupled with deliberate practice and coaching feedback, or simply an effective job aid.  This shift moves away from creating content that captivates to actually challenging learners to apply their knowledge in practical, impactful ways.

As we advance in our approach to effective corporate training, it’s imperative that we redefine what makes eLearning effective. Engagement should not be confused with effectiveness. While there’s many components of  effective corporate eLearning, the attribute of “engagement” is about captivating the learner’s cognitive engagement and intellect to foster skills that translate into measurable improvements in performance. Only by focusing on performance objectives and learning solutions that solely focus on meeting those can we hope to develop eLearning programs that are genuinely effective and capable of meeting the complex demands of today’s corporate environments.