fear-617132_640On this blog, I’ve mainly discussed attitudes about MOOCs and online learning from the perspective of trainers, managers, and others higher up in the organization. But, there is an even more important group of people whose attitudes need to be addressed: the learners themselves.

While it’s true that many learners prefer technology-enabled learning and would rather take a MOOC than a traditional course, you may also encounter employees who fear online learning. Here, we’ll look at the four biggest fears about online learning — from the learner’s perspective — and explore ways to overcome them.

Fear of trying something new

For someone who has never taken an online course before, or who hasn’t been in a classroom in a long time, the fear of trying something new can be very real…and very debilitating. This fear can have many different sources — a fear of looking foolish, a fear of the unknown, and so on. In a training environment, it is often a fear of being a beginner. This is especially true for managers and others in advanced positions, who might not be comfortable looking like a newbie in front of their subordinates.

This fear can manifest in many different ways. If you encounter objections from learners that don’t seem to make sense, they may indicate a fear of something new.

How to overcome it

Sports psychologist Michelle Cleere has some good advice for overcoming this fear that can be easily translated into a training context: goal setting. She suggests that when learning a new skill, you should set small goals for yourself and check them off as you accomplish them. This practice gives you a feeling of accomplishment and helps keep you motivated.

You can use this in your training. Create a checklist of small tasks associated with the beginning of your online course. These tasks could include registering for the course, setting up a learner profile, watching an introductory video, posting a personal introduction on the class discussion board, and so on. This will help your learners get comfortable with the format and provide them small successes along the way.

Fear of the technology

We live in such a digital world that this is hopefully becoming less of a problem, but it still exists in some organizations and among some audiences. The fear here is not of the technology itself, but of not understanding how to use it. For example, if you have learners who have never posted to social media, participated in online chats, or left comments on an article or a video, then participating in online discussions could be a hard sell.

How to overcome it

This fear is relatively easy to handle — train your learners how to use the technology before the course starts. For example, if you are running a MOOC, start with a short module on how to use the MOOC. In addition, provide technical support for your learners to help everyone get up to speed and stay there.

Fear of not having enough time

This fear is common among online learners. In a traditional training course, a chunk of time is blocked off — four hours here or two days there. In an online course, and particularly in a self-paced one, learners determine their own schedules. This aspect of MOOCs appeals to many, and is one of the reasons the courses have become so popular. But, for some, it can lead to the fear that they will not have time to participate in the course during normal working hours and thus will need to sacrifice their free time.

How to overcome it

If a training course is designed to take 20 hours, then 20 hours need to be set aside for it, even if it is self-paced. This doesn’t mean that the training needs to be specifically scheduled, but it does mean that during the training, managers need to allow their subordinates time to take the course. Some employees may choose to take the course at home in their spare time, but if you require them to do so, you will likely not only hear grumbling, but also find that many people are simply opting out.

Fear that the training won’t succeed

Finally, despite plenty of evidence to the contrary, there is still an attitude among many that online training simply doesn’t work as well as traditional face-to-face training. This attitude is dangerous because it can be a self-fulfilling prophecy: if learners believe online courses are subpar, then they may lack motivation and commitment, which, in turn, will lead to subpar results.

How to overcome it

A two-pronged approach is necessary here. First, there needs to be buy-in from executives and managers, as well as from the L&D department so that this attitude is not the result of a trickle-down effect. Second, prove it wrong by running an excellent online course. Give your learners a great experience of online learning — one that is meaningful and relevant, and that helps them do their job better, and this fear will quickly disappear.

Fear — of trying something new, of technology, and so on — is at the root of most of the objections you may hear to online training. The best approach is to address these fears head-on by providing learners with the knowledge and the tools they need to succeed.

Copyright 2015 Bryant Nielson. All Rights Reserved.

Bryant Nielson – Managing Director of CapitalWave Inc.– Being a big believer in Technology Enabled Learning, Bryant seeks to create awareness, motivate adoption and engage organizations and people in the changing business of education. Bryant is a entrepreneur, trainer, and strategic training adviser for many organizations. Bryant’s business career has been based on his results-oriented style of empowering the individual. Learn more about Bryant at LinkedIn: www.linkedin.com/in/bryantnielson
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Bryant Nielson is heavily involved in the Corporate Training and Leadership and Talent space. He currently is the Managing Director for CapitalWave Inc and the training division, Financial Training Solutions. He brings a diverse corporate experience of organizational development, learning and talent development, and corporate training, that also includes personal coaching of top sales individuals and companies of all sizes. For the prior 4 years, Bryant was the Managing Director and Leadership and Talent Manager for Lengthen Your Stride! LLC. In this position, Nielson was the developer of all of the courses for MortgageMae University (MMU), the Realtor Development Center (RDC), and of Lengthen Your Stride! (LYS). In that position, he developed material, refined over many years of use and active training, and condensed the coursework and training to be high impact, natural learning, and comprehensive. Bryant has over 27 years of Senior Management experience encompasses running his own Training and mortgage firm, in New York City. He strongly believes that the corporate training is not to be static but should 'engage and inspire' students to greater productivity and performance. Some have asked how to reach him. Here are some standard ways: Postal Mail: Bryant Nielson 54 Tenafly Road Tenafly, NJ 07670 Email: If you would like to contact me. Please do so via email by: clicking here. Telephone: (212) 335-0097