ELearning is Dead, Dormant or in Denial

It’s no secret that coming from leadership positions in public and corporate education I am very critical of substandard learning; ‘e’ or otherwise. Without vigorous advocacy at the top you’ll never get great results. So I ask, where have the learning leaders in major corporations gone? I asked a colleague who was quite sanguine about this and we agreed there are virtually no new positions for directors, managers or above in the big leagues — organizations are just playing musical chairs with execs. In the NY Metro area the same 5 postings have been playing roulette for 4 weeks with an occasional newcomer.

Why? Well, mostly salaries, etc., but there is something a bit more insidious. Let me begin with a caveat. Please voice up if you disagree – nothing would make me happier. What I believe is occurring is the ‘good enough’ factor taking hold. That is, instead of real leadership that can pilot courseware, guiding development through its most dynamic phase (e.g. social media, tablet computing. mlearning) most companies have neither the will nor the belief that any of these technologies and approaches to reinventing learning have much value. Ergo, who needs to spend big bucks for leadership? Instead, pay for more and less expensive instructional designers. Senior IDs are being asked to incorporate meager amounts of new technologies whenever they oversee their peers and only in a small part of the project. Of course putting a toe in the water should require little investment and won’t rock the boat too much. But overall it’s like “Leiningen Vs the Ants.” IDs will keep coming over the hill in droves at $25 an hour. “Look at the production – wow – we’re pumping out those courses”. (Here’s the radio show of the short story).

What we have right now are courses (and in that big bucket I include webinars, collaborative learning models, synchronous chat, etc.) constructed using the democratic tools of design. In other words, anyone can learn, by example, Articulate or Adobe Connect to develop credible learning. This permits CXOs to tout a robust learning and training department with 15 trainers (whose directive to keep the cost down would not dare incorporate tablet computing) and 5 IDs who can pump out online material to resolve distributed learning using regular gas instead of premium.

Rapid e-learning tools don’t offend me – they are the hammers and nails of production. It’s the smug satisfaction that the end results can be every bit as compelling, dynamic and deliver the requisite knowledge, skills and behaviors equal to that of a Flash (or HTML5) based, interactive gaming, high concept custom developed course. Cost savings in the corporate mindset are justified because there is no hard evidence a custom design really does THAT much more than a bunch of Captivates, glued on to a PowerPoint with sound. Sometimes off the shelf makes sense. OK, for small bits of lower level knowledge or skills transfer I’m realistic. Give unto Caesar, etc.

However I can draw a straight line from the diminishing amount of NEW talent in learning leadership to corporate reluctance to build custom courseware to the slow uptake and incorporation of technology, social media and collaboration inside learning. Explain away the dormancy of e-learning. At the very pinnacle of opportunity, with a palette of stunning colors from which to create a rainbow of courses there’s no renaissance in the offing. Maybe CXOs are holding back to see if the technologies will stick – or the dollar investment has not yet been proven to shoot forth spectacular people performances – those who can reinvent the company, bolster the bottom line and energize the stock price.

So to those of you who are in denial about what is happening in our field I offer a challenge. Show me a course, webinar, tablet-driven interactive learning app and I’ll publish it with a link to my 10,000 or so LinkedIn connections and Twitter followers, etc. Even if I get a pie in the face – I’ll be satisfied providing a model for excellence that is worth the whipped cream and gooey junk inside.

3 thoughts on “ELearning is Dead, Dormant or in Denial

  1. I am in the education sector, in a unique online school that teachers from year 1 to 12, using a blend of synch & asynch… Custom courseware is the norm here… One size, out of the box just doesn’t work when educating kids ( or anyone else for that matter)… Our online program is a success because of many things, great, insightful leadership is one. But underpinning everything at my school is the questions why? & how?: Why do I need to use this application AND how will my students benefit?as a trainer, teaching the clicks of an application is simple but teaching good use of the same application is the more challenging. For me elearning principles are the same whether the learner is a 10yr old or a 40yr old…they need to be engaged, active and challenged.

  2. For me E-learning is good but actual learning from schools are still the best, I think E-learning should just be for the improvement of what we previously learned.

    • Jenny –
      Based on your comment I can’t help but wonder how much quality online learning you have experienced. Yes, there are dreadful courses and tutorials but so are there miserable teachers. My point is simple; elearning when done well has the power to reach long distances, expose learners to in-depth problem solving and drive further discourse. Great teachers can do the same but just by scale how many instructors can reach how many learners over time and distance? Not to mention harnessing technology in the best way to amaze, inspire and create conditions for deeper thought. Search out great elearning and you’ll see what I mean.

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