Why Your eLearning May Not be Effective and What You Can Do About It

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Why Your eLearning May Not be Effective and What You Can Do About It

Bored woman taking eLearning

Page-turners and text death and glazed eyes! Oh my!

Bored woman taking eLearning

Why does so much eLearning look more like shovelware than courseware, when the technology exists to do so much more? A number of factors conspire to make eLearning less effective than it can be:

  • Budgets—eLearning is often selected because organizations want to train employees as cheaply and quickly as possible. And competition is driving the prices down. Designers and developers often have just a couple of days or weeks to throw together a one-hour course. Compare that to the budgets and timeframes for a two-hour feature movie. If Hollywood had to work with typical eLearning budgets, what would the movie experience be like?
  • Resources—Sometimes adding interactivity and engagement requires resources and effort from the sponsoring organization. For example, an online discussion is a good way to get learners to think deeply about a topic and what it means for them. However, that approach requires a resource to review and comment on learners’ posts. If the organization doesn’t have that resource, it may have to settle for something less effective.
  • Tools—The eLearning industry has developed numerous tools to make development simpler and faster. But these tools are designed with certain paradigms in mind, and they may box designers into basic “click to explore” or multiple-choice interactions. Many rapid authoring tools are based on PowerPoint, which seems to facilitate loading up screens with mind-numbing bullet points. It doesn’t have to. PowerPoint offers lots of functionality to create highly visual and interactive screens. But the path of least resistance can lead to text-heavy, non-interactive elearning.
  • Paradigms and Comfort Zones—ELearning has worked a certain way for years now, with certain well-established features, like the Objectives screen and the Knowledge Check. So when clients ask for eLearning, that’s often what they expect. And they may feel uncomfortable trying something radically different. We all want to be innovators, but we don’t necessarily want the risk that goes with that.
  • Subject Matter Experts Developing eLearning—It makes sense to ask the people who know the content to develop the eLearning, and the tools make that easy to do. But subject matter experts may not know the principles of effective learning and engagement. They care about their content. They want the learners to know everything there is to know about it. They may not be thinking about what’s most important or what learners need to do.

The Serious eLearning Manifesto
So the deck may be stacked against the conscientious designer, but that doesn’t mean we’re stuck with shovelware. And thankfully, some thought leaders in the elearning industry have decided to do something to improve eLearning, launching the Serious eLearning Manifesto on March 13, 2014. With the Manifesto stating that “We believe that learning technology offers the possibility for creating uniquely valuable learning experiences; we also believe, with a sense of sadness and profound frustration, that most eLearning fails to live up to its promise,” these thought leaders identify 8 values and characteristics of “Serious eLearning” and 22 supporting principles.

The Possibilities
The Serious eLearning values and characteristics and supporting principles aren’t necessarily new. But what the Serious eLearning Manifesto does is to capture them succinctly in a simple online list. As an industry, we now have a common set of standards that is endorsed by eLearning practitioners and professional organizations. The principles can serve as a simple checklist to keep eLearning on the path toward effectiveness. And we now have a tool to educate clients out of their comfort zones so that they will embrace innovative learning strategies.

Serious Learning
As new technologies and the proliferation of mobile devices expand our ability to reach and support learners, staying focused on effective learning design principles becomes even more important. These principles will guide us to find the best ways to use technology to improve human performance. The focus always needs to stay on the learning goal, leveraging available technologies in the most effective way to meet that goal. From that perspective, the manifesto may be better named the Serious Learning Manifesto or the Effective Learning Manifesto.

How Does Your Courseware Measure Up?
Take a hard look at your own courseware in light of the eLearning Manifesto principles. What might you be able to do differently to make learning more effective?

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