E-Learning, particularly in the business world, has long been praised by many as the final solution to the challenge of continual learning. Administrators in government and industry see it as a cost effective way of sharing valuable information; learners see it as a means of flexible learning, and content/media developers see it as a new service opportunity. Each demanding taskmaster exacts a compromise from the process of creating E-Learning while few understand the complex nature of this information sharing process.
In reality, the learning process is much less predictable and more complex than most people realize. Effective learning utilizes body language, the cadence of rhythmic audio and visual communications, subject matter comprehension, intellectual engagement, technical facilitation and a comfortable learning environment. Just as some teachers are masters at keeping the focus and attention of the students through their teaching techniques in the classroom … E-learning must weave a web of challenge and intrigue that allows the learner to transcend the medium, manipulate the technology with ease …all while working at their own pace in an easy to comprehend format.
Each of the partners involved in developing today’s E-Learning tools and environments has an agenda. Each has their own task master in the private or public sector, where cost-efficiency, regulations and guidelines and counter intuitive processes that have nothing to do with content, often figure significantly in determining the type and quality of the E-Learning administered to learners. The means by which E-Learning is administered often sets up the learner’s expectations and ultimately their level of engagement and enrichment. By not introducing learner expectations, the learner often envisions sitting back and absorbing a one-way theatre style presentation that will contain all the information they need.
To understand how we have arrived at this current state of affairs in E-Learning we can examine the evolution of “corporate training”, as it was once called. There are many parallels between current E-Learning practices and corporate training. Corporate training in the early 1980’s advanced significantly with the advent of video as a learning medium. We can learn a lot about implementing Internet based E-Learning from the video training revolution of the 80's.
When video learning was introduced there was a lot of uncertainty around the technology as a conflict between technologies formats - VHS and Beta – similarly today we are undergoing similar conflicts between various software solutions and delivery technologies. Video learning was difficult and costly to implement because the infrastructure was either non-existent or problematic – Internet based learning continues to be troublesome and laborious to implement as access and implementation are in the domain of the technology guardians - the IT Department.
Strategic business planning did not truly understand the significance of developing effective learning and how it might affect the bottom line. Today we have a more mature business-planning model for learning but many organizations continue to implement Internet Learning on a project-by-project basis with little understanding of the long-term impact or legacy training strategies.
The content was also problematic in video learning as pedantic and boring content was delivered to learners with little understanding of their learning needs, their ethnic make up, ability to comprehend English effectively and their aptitude for use of technology.
Learning focus remained on the content, subject matter specialist and the medium; instead of the learner. Learning strategies also lacked the creation of a long-term plan that considered updating content, new technologies implementation, knowledge migration and the changing face of the learner. As in the classroom we can control the content, the environment and even the learning process but we have a much poorer understanding of the learner and how they learn in unique environments such as E-Learning.
Many E-Learning development companies today are well versed in the standard implementation of E-Learning. They understand the deployment technology (web programming and the Internet) but not the implications of using a broad spectrum of media tools that make up an effective Learning scenario such as video, audio, animation, role-playing, simulations, music, sound effects and perhaps most of all how each of these interacts. Each of these plays an important role in the learning process as research has indicated. Learners use a number of clues and “learning factors” and each person learns by placing somewhat different importance on each of these “media elements.”
Also an important part of the process is the need to encourage a heightened engagement in E-Learning by the learner and to set out critical achievement standards for the leaner from the outset. Many learners, especially those educated during the 70’s and 80’s were indoctrinated into the “theatre” style learning process where the learner would simply sit back and learn or be fed the information. Today’s learner needs to be engaged in the process, this starts with the selection of the subject matter expert, developing long term learning strategies, producing engaging & interactive presentations but ends with a change in the expectations we have of E-Learners and the need for each to understand the subject matter.
During the video learning evolution of the eighties the learner was not considered central to the process; we had little knowledge of how people learn and under what circumstance we learn more effectively. Internet learning or E-Learning as it is commonly called today has not considered the learner any more effectively than did the video learning of the eighties. Many companies and organizations have used the same existing training infrastructure or “legacy learning systems” and tried to implement E-Learning. Even though the technology is more complex, yet ubiquitous; even though learners have become more sophisticated and their ethnic make-up has become more diverse, even though knowledge is now considered a much more important factor in the success of an organization and even though the costs are increasing dramatically. Little thought has been given to developing a unique infrastructure and administration process for E-Learning that places the leaner at the head of the class!
Today there is little left of the video-learning systems of the eighties – the only legacy that remains is the administrative process. We have gone through a number of technologies, from Laser Disks, CD ROMs and DVDs to dial up Internet, high speed Internet and now High Definition. I am sure that the future of learning will continue to become more complex as the body of information we need to know continues to grow and the need to inform and refresh our information demands that we keep pace.
The delivery mechanisms will continue to change but the learning strategies, once put in place, will form an important base upon which organizations can leverage knowledge to deliver products and services more effectively.