The e-learning promise for corporate training has been compared to the dot-com bubble: over-promised and under-delivered. As Clark Aldrich stated in his book Simulations and the Future of Learning, we are living in the fast food culture of e-learning: the expectation of low cost and high-profit training programs. But just as fast food delivers on low cost margins and is awfully convenient, it does little to nourish us. This too is the case of many of the e-learning page turners, where the race to deliver quickly and cheaply has compromised much of the benefits of online learning, leading to the low impact of technology-based training.
E-learning can be effective. The fatal flaw of the fast food industry which is being repeated in the fast food culture of e-learning is the failure to consider the needs of the end-user. In the end , it is the learner-centered design and use of instructional strategies that impact transfer of learned behaviors to the job.
E-Learning needs an advocate. After all, it is still fairly new and unfamiliar for many organizations and as such, mistakes in the design and delivery are expected. Keep in mind that after several decades, we still need to adapt and refine our school system! There are many compelling arguments that can be made to justify the benefits of online learning. But I believe much of the criticism can be attributed to 2 factors:
- The tendency to repurpose classroom training to standard e-learning page-turners. In the words of Stephen Downes: online learning fails when we use technology to do old things.
- The linear approach to content presentation where knowledge is presented, followed by application-based exercises. This is not reflective of the learner’s real-life context where theory and practice collide.
I would like to put forward a recipe for what I believe leads to an impactful online learning experience: a hint of game, a dash of immersion, and a whole lot of pedagogy! This recipe creates an engaging and interactive learning experience that transfers to real-world performance outcomes.
As defined by the eLearning Guild in their report entitled Simulations and Games, games are structured activities that involve a challenge, information to respond to, and rules for achieving a goal. Immersion contextualizes the learner, and provides a realistic experience that reflects a task or setting. By using games and immersive environments, you challenge the learner, provide opportunity for practice, and appeal to the innate desire to play and have fun. Further, the e-learning experience can be adapted to each person’s needs while engaging the learner cognitively and emotionally.
We learn by doing, and designing virtual environments that combine knowledge and practice in a way that motivates the learner may be the missing ingredient in many traditional e-learning programs. And best of all, these instructional strategies are not necessarily expensive. There are cost-effective means of building these approaches in the program design. And if you are thinking that well-designed e-learning can’t do it all, you are right, but it can do much more than what it is doing today.
The last ingredient – pedagogy – merits a conversation of its own and will be explored in my next entry. In the meanwhile, I welcome any comments on your experience in designing and developing e-learning programs.