eLearning Course Completion: A Wager

My boss and I just couldn’t get into an 8-module eLearning course. Read a full description of our struggles to get started in this eLearning course in previous blog posts by reading about when an eLearning course fizzles and about requirements not leading to eLearning course completion.

Based on some of the comments and recommendations from those previous blog posts, we decided to reach deep into our bag of tricks and create a disincentive for not completing the course. If either of us failed to complete the eLearning course (and then pass the final, 75-question exam for certification in the topic), then we would have to pay $50 into our team “party fund” (our team party fund is mostly made up of contributions from team members who show up late to team meetings – $1/minute!).

To make a long story short, we each completed the 8 modules and passed the certification exam one day ahead of schedule. Following are some transferable lessons that we’re taking from this experience in order to increase the adoption of eLearning within our organization. Feel free to steal these ideas and bring them into your own eLearning efforts.

Lessons for eLearning Course Completion:

  1. There’s strength in numbers. Having a partner who was also committed to completing the eLearning course was helpful. We held each other accountable and when we both struggled to get started in the e-learning program, we could brainstorm ideas on how we might be able to move past our barriers to getting started.
  2. Competitive spirit. Once my boss got started in taking the eLearning program, I didn’t want to be the slacker. When he told me he had completed three of the modules, I made sure I had completed four of the modules. When he completed his certification exam, I certainly wasn’t going to be the one who had to shell out $50. I made sure I passed the exam the following day.
  3. Socially constructed learning. There were some concepts that I found confusing or didn’t quite align with how we did things in our office. Having someone else available to talk through some of the confusing content or to brainstorm how we could modify and use concepts or tools that didn’t align with our current processes made the information that much more relevant for me.
  4. The incentive or disincentive needs to mean something. For the first month or more after we had committed to complete this eLearning course, both my boss and I always found reasons to work on anything but the eLearning. Even if we had agreed that the first person to complete the course would earn a $5 or $10 Starbucks gift card (ie: an incentive), I’m not sure it would have been extremely meaningful or motivating. However, FIFTY dollars is a completely different story for both of us. I don’t think either of us wanted to pay $50 out of pocket.
  5. Immediate application is essential. Malcolm Knowles was right (for anyone who doesn’t like to geek out on adult learning, Malcolm Knowles is largely considered the father of adult learning theory, and one of the key principles he espoused was that learning needs to solve an immediate problem or meet an immediate need in order for adult learners to want to pay attention). This eLearning program consisted of a series of 8 modules on project management, aspects of which our team has struggled with over the past several years. After completing the modules and passing the exam, our next steps will be to revisit and revise the project planning process and tools we use for our team.

Anything missing? If you have other keys to implementing successful eLearning programs, specifically for increasing eLearning course completion rates, let me (and the rest of the world) know in the comments section below. Know someone who is currently working to implement or improve engagement with their eLearning program? Pass this link along.

2 thoughts on “eLearning Course Completion: A Wager

  1. Congrats on completing the course and achieving the PMD Pro certificaton! I like the tips and agree with them. Related to two of yours was something used in the MOOC in which I participated last year on irrationality. I There was a “quiz” at the start of the course in which participants were asked how we would help ourselves stay the course and achieve the level of participation we desired (noting not everyone was planning to finish, or earn the certificate). Combining your “Strength in Numbers” and “meaningful” incentive/disincentive, publicly proclaiming one’s plan to take/complete the course can be helpful — even if none of your audience takes it with you. We posted some of the ideas from that MOOC on the LINGOs blog: http://lingos.wordpress.com/2013/06/17/mooc-tip-plication/

    • Thanks Marian.

      Elearning is such an amazing tool… in theory. But when it’s self-guided, all the advantages of the flexible nature of being able to do it when it’s convenient to you are competing with all the higher priority things you could/should be doing while you’re sitting at your desk.

      Even with supervisor support (indeed, he committed to doing this with me) we found it all too easy to procrastinate. But the $50 bet (which was inspired by your colleague Mike) finally did it for us.

      Thanks for the link back to the LINGOs blog… perhaps we should have read that before we tried reinventing your wheel!

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