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Is it an eLearning solution?

Over the last five to ten years, eLearning has become a viable and highly effective way to address business problems that can be solved or mitigated through training.

Advances in computer processing power, visual fidelity and software capabilities have presented us with some powerful tools to create the quality of presentations that we could only dream about just a few years ago.  Most important to this evolution is the new generation of artists, designers, developers and communicators that have grown up learning and mastering their art on computers.  In general, these folks are fast, talented and unfazed by the technology. The result is powerful visual and audio-visual presentations that are quite compelling. 

This last resource, human talent, is the most important component to the recipe for effective training development. Not only are designers and developers comfortable with the tools, but learning strategists and instructional designers are becoming adept with the ability to simulate reality or even create new learning environments that provide rich learning experiences.

Because of all of this, eLearning has gained the respect of corporate trainers and learners, alike.  eLearning has become in vogue. In short, there are really great eLearning examples that provide terrific experiences and motivate and equip learners to reach high levels of performance.  Who doesn’t want this?  It’s what we all strive for: effective communication, motivated learners, satisfied management, productive enterprises. Life is good.

So dear reader, what’s wrong with this scenario?  Well, perhaps nothing. Or possibly plenty.

All too often, project sponsors use eLearning as a catchall for the transfer of baseline knowledge not well suited for eLearning. Often they do so with good intentions; with the expectations of high-end learning experiences that eLearning is capable of delivering.  The outcomes frequently are not successful.  The result is often too long, loaded with information, devoid of interactive engagement. 

In short, it’s boring.

Target missed. The audience is not only disengaged, they’ve also become abhorrent to eLearning, itself.

Simply being able to build a slide deck and convert it with some narrative and a bit of gratuitous interactivity (you know… hiding information for no reason other than to require the user to wiggle their mouse and click a few things) doesn’t mean you should.

Think of this: every time you set out to build an eLearning course, you have the entire reputation and future of the eLearning industry in your hands.  Because, after all, within your sphere of influence, you do.

The question to ask is this: Does our need require an eLearning solution?

When used inappropriately and with little regard for its strengths and its shortcomings, eLearning suffers. More importantly, your audience suffers. Often the intent outweighs reality and the results are disappointing for all.  Ultimately, eLearning gets a bad name and your audience loathes the experience.  Forever.  Overstatement?  Not in some companies.

So what does one do when a significant amount of information needs to be conveyed?  I suggest thinking retro and producing a well-designed booklet, or a great visual and expertly designed hand out.  Maybe a video.  Or even a poster. Often times, a job aid can provide far more utility than an eLearning course.  The choices are broad. Paper is still viable.  It’s portable, searchable, handy, convenient.  And doesn’t require Wi-Fi or even power.  Wow! Sounds like a miracle technology.  Back to the future, McFly.

Some years ago, a magazine (you know, the kind printed on paper) called Verbum was produced as a linked, non-linear communication device.  That’s right.  Printed on paper like any ordinary magazine of its day, yet non-linear, linked and highly interactive content. How?  Imaginative page design and a well-defined understanding of how to create effective interactive content.  I was a subscriber back then and loved the publication, yet I retained none of my copies.  I so wish I had squirreled a few issues away.  They were remarkable.  And could teach me lessons on information flow, some 20 years after the publish date.  That’s effective development.

The message I want to leave with you, dear reader, is to not choose any delivery method (eLearning, mobile, ILT, synchronous, nonsynchronous) and expect it to work equally effectively for all of your training needs.  In fact, you should not choose a delivery method at all before you’ve done your homework on the project’s purpose, its requirements and your audience’s needs.

But that’s a topic for another post.

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