Is your eLearning Racing in Circles?
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.