July 11, 2011

Is your eLearning Racing in Circles?

I’ve been thinking a lot this week about the nature of business, eLearning and the deceptive influence of speed. Riddle me this…

One man starts at the beginning and drives 200 miles at 200 miles per hour and when he stops at his destination he exits the vehicle to find he’s arrived at exactly the same location as he left.At the same time a woman starts at the same beginning and drives 100 miles at 100 miles per hour. The woman exits her vehicle and sees that she’s traveled 100 miles away from her origin and reached her desired destination.

How is it possible? The man was driving in circles – very fast circles, but circles nonetheless. Now sometimes driving in circles is very appropriate, when trying to win a race for example or if you’re delivering passengers or packages, but most of the time we travel with the intent of covering distance to arrive at a new destination.

I’ve been thinking about racing in circles, because I have recently begun to encounter a lot of people who describe such a race track, and feeling trapped – unable to exit – to reach their actual goals. I guess it’s a problem we all face, caught in a rut, unable to escape and never quite meeting our expectation. But does it have to be this way in our eLearning efforts? Is Rapid eLearning a race track? Are we churning out cookie cutter courses each module faster than the last, but never making any real impact on the learner? Or worse yet, putting them to sleep as they switch their cars on auto-pilot?

Like many things in life, there are no doubt times when a template-centered, rapidly produced lecture capture can be an effective asset to comprehension. It’s a good way to capture knowledge – freeze it into a nice, easy to consume package and produce the content quite quickly. But like most things, it isn’t the right solution for every situation. Unfortunately this distinction between producing informational assets and developing effective online learning is one that is all too often lost – especially when managers and bean counters get involved in the process.

Research in the field (see personalization & eLearning, Cognitive Theory of Multimedia eLearning) consistently reveals that disengaged learners – put off by formalized, information-centered eLearning – grow rapidly frustrated and lose interest very quickly. On top of general disinterest, there is a strong likelihood that in many cases the information around such content is centered – is actually irrelevant to the real goal of the training. How often do you really want a widget assembly line worker to pass a multiple choice exam on the history of widgets as part of their actual widget assembly responsibilities? On the other hand, you might really have a desperate need to reduce the number of accidents on the widget assembly line.

So often, we need to shift our attention away from the info-dumping and move it onto the goals, or the destination to continue the race metaphor. The most critical question is not what information do we have available about this course, it’s what do we want the learner to do after taking this course – what behavior do we want to change, modify, enhance, or improve? Once that destination is clear, we can design and develop great interactions that are likely to interest the learner, and that can help them learn quickly what kind of skills, behaviors, or other things they need in order to accomplish our initial goals.

There are of course times when we just want to quickly document some information (maybe we’re just trying to prevent knowledge loss for example by a quick capture of a specialist’s workshop) but most of the time, we’re educators on a mission to really improve our organizations. This also can mean a great deal in financial terms – something the bean counters will respect if you help them understand. Regulatory and compliance issues generally arise where legal fines, potential litigation and other costs have appeared. If your training isn’t effective, it doesn’t matter how inexpensive it was to produce. On the other hand, very effective training can save companies enormous amounts of money. And the beautiful thing about a learner-centered / goal-centered approach is that it can easily be tracked – and you can demonstrate to management how well your training met those goals.

So ask yourself – is this project going somewhere, or am I just driving in circles? And perhaps you’ll find that a slight course change – maybe a little bit more time developing a more learner-centered approach, will actually lead to far more significant rewards than just running through the paces of another loop around the track.

Posted by Allen Partridge7:10 PM
  • http://www.facebook.com/allen.partridge Allen Partridge

    I hope you guys will comment on today’s blog post. i’d love to hear if your experiences are similar – or if you feel like there is more to it etc. Please feel free to share your own ideas here too.

  • Anonymous

    Every day. I find it the most difficult part about my job, that never changes whatever company or client I work with.

    • http://blogs.adobe.com/captivate/ Allen Partridge

      I feel your pain Posh – and hopefully sharing it will diminish the frustration a little.

  • Anonymous

    Hi Allen,

    thank you again for a great article!

    I would use your picture as an example, if you do not mind :)
    Every year the F1 Championship starts again and again. Its racers are changing. However, only few of them are able to become a champion. Why it is that?
    Each new year the directors change and implement new rules to make the race more interesting for spectators and make all racers to be more equal. However, we can see that always the same racers are still winning. Why only the same racers?

    I would say that only those few racers have the possibity to win the championship, to finish first. Only those few can concentrate to win the race and they have the ability to become a champion. Others will always racing the circles again and again.

    If you are a teacher you always have to face this truth. It is not about the content which you are serving to the learners, its always about the content which you serve to the learners which really want to learn. Its always about those which are eager to learn. They really do not to need special learning technic and they will ask you for more information at the end of course. To others?! We will be doing some courses again and again.

    Rado

    • http://blogs.adobe.com/captivate/ Allen Partridge

      I’m flattered. Glad you like it.

  • Lieve Weymeis

    Thanks for this post, Allen. You explain much better than I could what I have been trying to communicate to my colleagues in college without much success: please try to focus on what the student will have to be capable of doing in his future career. To me that should lead to throwing away all those encyclopedic text courses (that are never complete) the student is supposed to ‘absorb’, to reproduce on an exam and forget about ASAP. And we’ll have time to concentrate on what is really important. The problem is that this seems so adventurous, leaving the safe teaching ways that most think has worked for them. I hope/fear that company training will be adapting sooner :-)

    • http://www.facebook.com/allen.partridge Allen Partridge

      It’s fascinating to me Lieve that education remains behind the ball on adoption / implementation of methods rooted in cognitive theory. Of course I was primarily focused on training here, but I totally agree – the phenomena is even more deeply ingrained in academic settings. The problem there (in schools) has generally been similar – managers who believe that we’ll save money by streamlining and expediting the education. It reaches a kind of ironic fervor in the wake of standardized testing – sort of a way to say, well we know they can’t learn everything, so we’ll pick just a small subset, and make sure they all have robotic regurgitation of that small cluster of possibly irrelevant information.

      The flip-side of this is also pretty scary in education however. For the most part our higher education personnel have no training or preparation in how to evaluate materials etc. that are not coming in that standardized format. (The notable exceptions are in art / architecture and engineering – and writing intensive spaces.) But it can take a lot of courage for teachers to abandon the info-dump landscape in favor of such a vast unknown. Even so, I suspect that many feel the need – and would love as much support as they can get learning to develop alternative methods, exercises, activities etc. that are more likely to promote 21st Century learning skills.

      • Lieve Weymeis

        Scary is the right word, that is the way I feel about it. But even art teaching (I was a flute teacher for 25yrs), one of the rare education domains where learners and mentors were more focussed on real learning, is reverting here towards the more easy and standardised practices for ‘integration’ reasons. Imagine that I was forced to create a written text course for Photoshop (because that reports some money) before creating interactive trainings for it? And since several years I do beg our manager to let me train, support other colleagues to develop new learning skills without success. So my energy is now diverted elsewhere, using Social Media like forums, Twitter, blogs… And be sure: I do not have that much courage, only feel responsibility :-)

      • Lieve Weymeis

        Scary is the right word, that is the way I feel about it. But even art teaching (I was a flute teacher for 25yrs), one of the rare education domains where learners and mentors were more focussed on real learning, is reverting here towards the more easy and standardised practices for ‘integration’ reasons. Imagine that I was forced to create a written text course for Photoshop (because that reports some money) before creating interactive trainings for it? And since several years I do beg our manager to let me train, support other colleagues to develop new learning skills without success. So my energy is now diverted elsewhere, using Social Media like forums, Twitter, blogs… And be sure: I do not have that much courage, only feel responsibility :-)

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