Technology changes Everything

technology-298256_640In probably the most powerful indictment of current e-learning practices that I have ever read, Ethan Edwards asks Why Do We Continue to Perpetuate and Promote Ineffective E-Learning? He explains that in his contact with instructional designers, he has noticed that …

Following tradition, doing what is recommended by many authoring tools, and patterning one’s work after many examples in the workplace is going to result in pretty ineffective e-learning.

He then goes on to say

It’s interesting to contemplate why the field of e-learning perpetuates—and even encourages—ineffective practices for so long. In other fields, ineffective procedures become extinct. For example, doctors quit using leeches to bleed illness out of people when we realized it did no good. However in the field of e-learning, millions of dollars are spent each year on ineffective page-turners (“PowerPoint on Steroids” has become the common term) that authors, administrators, and learners alike freely admit are not even paid attention to as learners press NEXT as quickly as possible to complete.

New technology brings new potential, so using it to replicate old practices – even “on steroids” – adds very little to the old experience and more often than not, leads to ineffective practice. The Web opened up new opportunities, but e-learning has largely ended up as being the delivery of screenfuls of training content. To a large extent the same has happened with m-learning, in as much as training content has now been shrunk down to appear on the screens of smartphones and tablets, although, as Clark Quinn has rightly pointed out in his book on Designing mLearning, their value is not in augmenting learning but augmenting performance. Does the same fate await the use of wearables? I hope not, as they are visibly not another device to use for the delivery of courseware; their use needs to be considered very differently for learning and performance support.

But why has all this happened? For many the term “learning” is still considered to mean studying or memorization, education, schooling and so forth. We have focused on the learning that takes place in classes, courses, exams, qualifications for so long now, that it has become engrained in us all, which means that very few organizations value the natural – some would say “real” –  learning that takes place everyday as people work – largely because it can’t be tracked, measured or managed in an LMS!

But whilst organisations focus on creating, delivering and managing (ineffective) e-learning, an increasing number of individuals are using the Web to learn for themselves in newer, more efficient ways:  autonomously, in bite-sized chunks or short interactions, continuously, on demand, socially, anywhere, at any time, and on any device

People often remark that changing organisational learning practices first requires a shift in organisational culture.  But it is clear that few people like or value click-next e-learning, and we can see that many people are now bypassing L&D to solve their own learning and performance problems in new ways. So who is holding things back? But more importantly, how can we move forward?

The hardest way is probably trying to convince a manager that s/he doesn’t need a piece of e-learning to solve a performance problem. You might show him/her the evidence for the ineffectiveness of current e-learning, and explain the new ways people are learning. You might recommend some different approach to try together. He or she may well ask “How do you know it will work?”, to which you might well reply, “How do you know e-learning will work?” You might be able to implement something differently in some small way, but it will probably take some time to chip away at long-held beliefs about what “learning” looks like.

Another easier way might well be this: to offer some voluntary – yes voluntary – new-style (learning) activities to try out your ideas, to show what is now possible, and to whet the appetite for more. Such activities might include short live chats around workplace topics, continuous learning flows, regular learning challenges, “Sharing Your Work” weeks, and so on.  You might start with small interested groups or open it up to the whole organisation. You could use your Enterprise Social Network to provide the technology infrastructure. But this approach will help to build a groundswelll for change from individuals themselves, and managers might well then come to you asking for a new style solution to their problems.

How are you trying to change learning mindsets and approaches in your own organisation?


  1. moehlert

    Jane – great post and thanks for the pointer to Ethan’s – another strong one as well…I think this is a perfect discussion to be having. As I start to type this comment, I think I’m going to have to do my own blog post 🙂 but I will say that you two have given us a great start that needs to go even further. I don’t think we incorporate enough cross-discipline into our thinking for one – meaning that I think if we are to deliver effective instruction on the Web, we need to start with understanding the Web and the innovative things that people are doing with it. How many ISD programs include courses in things like information architecture, UX/UI and design classes? I don’t think we ever adopted something like the classroom out of a surfeit of research saying it was the most instructionally sound way to answered another need…I side with Ethan in asking folks (if the goal is actually to affect performance) to stop thinking about a linear slide show as the best template. Anyway, thanks much for spurring this on….

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  5. Jane-One echoes the previous comment by “moehlert” and one takes on board that the use of technology makes increasing inroads into the delivery of learning, training and assessing.
    But what one still sees is a fundamental lack of critical thinking displayed by a generation now appearing in the Australian context but one suspects around the world in to utilising the power of what the web has to offer to take control of their learning in a way that suits them.

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