Tuesday, September 4, 2007

What is broken in eLearning implementation?

I see that eLearning and CBT are earning a bad reputation, not because the approach is fundamentally flawed, but because the implementations have catered to the lowest common denominator. This breaks down into two major parts, both of which are fundamentally driven by the customer desire for quick fixes.

1. LMS side: Customers want an LMS that shows the training department has enterprise-level clout. Beyond that, the customers are only now starting to think about what the user experience (operational concept) will be and what, if any, detailed reporting and tracking is needed. 95% of the LMSs I have seen only provide a report of who has completed the course. There is no consideration of tracking how many times an individual answered a particular question. This kind of tracking is very important to discover if there is a problem with the question or content or to see if students are just guessing at answers to get the "completion certificate". Many LMSs have been happy to provide this minimal set of back-end capabilities while focusing on the pretty front-end "virtual campus" interface (and on a strong sales department). This results in systems costing many hundreds of thousands of dollars that provide empire building but little else.

2. Course Authoring: If your course consists of converted PowerPoint slides with a single final test at the end, chances are your students will skip over the slides, take the test, and be done with it, without actually learning anything or proving that they know the content. Generally, presentation slides require a live instructor to complete the content and ensure that the students spend the time on the material. If you take away the instructor, presentation slides provide maybe 20% of the training. Visual animations such as flying bullets only add distraction; but that is what many course authors are including because, "gee, look how cool this is!"

In order to use CBT/eLearning effectively, the course owner must follow the entire sequence that the students experience. This means designing the course to match the delivery environment, providing multiple expositions of the same material, asking test questions on the same material multiple times in the session (and requiring completion of the multiple tests), and most importantly, reviewing the results of the training by seeing how each question was answered. Otherwise, it is like a high school that hands out the textbooks at the beginning of the year, and just looks at the scores from a self-administered test after the student has "graduated". "Quick and easy" solutions will lead, in the long term to a backlash against eLearning. Throwing new technologies (podcasts, wikis, game shows, and blogs) will not solve the problem if the content and approach are not sound, well thought out, and properly monitored.


Laurence said...
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Laurence said...

Sorry, my first post omitted a key sentence!

I'm not sure that a bad reputation for e-learning is imminent or likely. What's happened of late is that development tools have got easier and easier to use - trainers are no longer dependent on outsourcing e-learning to programmers. This may lead to a dip in glamour, but, if trainers apply sound instructional design and apply all they already know about learning in traditional environments to e-learning, I think we'll see a massive surge in e-learning. Content is the the first key - engage the subject matter experts and let them loose with easy to use tools. Design is next in line of importance: enable trainers to apply sound learning principles to the design of e-learning. Technology stands last (but not necessarily least) in the list: use state-of-the-art tools that enhance the content and design, without long learning curves for the developers.