According to the Global Industry Analysts’ market research, E-learning industry has reached $107 billion in 2015 with an exponential growth that will at least triple by 2025. Nowadays, not only Universities develop or make use of online platforms to offer classes intended for students and professionals. Indeed, the business world shows an increasing interest in virtual realities which aim to strengthen the competences of employees and leaders who are ready to abandon the ordinary teaching methods. Shell, Toyota, PayPal, Pitney Bowes are only a few examples of companies which invest in the improvement of their teams through eLearning training. Specifically, 77% of corporations in the United States provide online courses to improve their competitiveness.
Solutions offered by technological development could be beneficial within the educational sector, thanks to lower costs and higher flexibility in terms of space and time which e-learning provides to people who are committed with the enhanching of their know-how. While studying online has some significant advatages, it is important to complete the analysis having a closer look at the downside as well. There are three significant factors how e-learning can negatively impact the working environment characterised by the presence of different backgrounds in terms of language, cognitive style, and culture.
A critical piece of succesful learning is getting feedback. This is a communication process which aims to identify a behaviour that needs to be suspended, corrected,modified, or reinforced. But different cultures have different ways to communicate and express feedback.
The first distinction that virtual classes miss refers to high-context and low-context cultures theorized by the American anthropologist Edward T. Hall. The high context has a sophisticated communication style where reading between lines is important, on the contrary the low context gives priority to a simple and clear conversation. Within these two macro-areas, as suggested by Erin Meyer in The Culture Map, a negative feedback can be provided directly or indirectly in relation to a specific cultural environment. China, Japan, and Kenya are high context cultures which tend to not accept a negative feedback in a public setting; differently Germany, Denmark, and the Netherlands are low context whose habit is expressing direct negative feedback, which might sound rude to the indirect cultures. Similarly Italy, Spain, and Russia whilist being high context cultures, they also tend to prefer direct feedback which is, in their perception, a synonym to honesty. Finally, the USA, Canada, and the UK adopt a simple and clear communication style, but they would rather blur the negative feedback by using words of appreciation and encouragement. As illustrated, feedback is instrumental to motivate and drive actions which will contribute to the individual and corporate performance, ergo a misinterpretation of the received feedback could lead to incorrect actions.
Curiosity also plays an important role. Francesca Gino, Professor of Business Administration at Harvard, conducted interesting studies on curiosity within companies, coming to the conclusion that it has positive influence on decision making process, innovation and changes, group conflicts, communication, and team performance. A key element of demonstrating curiosity is asking questions and listening to the responses. This process, indeed, supports the creation of a climate where new ways of filling knowledge gaps are explored. This experience might be limited during online classes where the tutor may not be immediatly available. This is a kind of static learning situation which does not foster the creative flow of ideas.
Finally, empathy relates to curiosity and it is the ability to understand and acknowledge different viewpoints and feelings. Empathy is related to emotional intelligence, the capacity to be aware and control emotions, and to handle interpersonal relationships emphathetically. The EQ can be analysed on the individual and group level, and it can predict the success of a team assigned to a task. Empathy plays an important role also in the learning process. It is one of the basic human needs to belong to a community, including a community of learners where the facilitator is able to create an environment of trust and examine how learners are responding to various teaching methods and contents in order to deal with their eventual frustration and confusion. By doing so, the facilitator maximizes the learning experience and designs modules which match the participants’ level of competences, their natural learning styles and their needs, without making conclusions about the learners by knowing only a few general traits. This can be difficult to achieve in a context which emphasizes virtual connections over intrpersonal ones.
The ancient Indian philosophers were probably right when claming that “a culture based on science and logic is efficient but not inspiring”. Perception (pratyaska) is crucial, they argued, and it is connected to the source of knowledge (pramana) and to the word of expert (sabda). In this context, even by acknowledging the advantages of e-learning which provides direct access to knowledge wherever the learner has an internet connection, the existence of a face to face interaction with experts cannot be understimated as it offers insights which come from their skills and their personal experiences. Pramana and Sabda, the same as online teaching and traditional methods used in classroom, should be components of the same whole offering the best conditions for professional growth and development.