It’s been a while since I’ve written to my learning blog – for those who have followed me and others curious – I’ve been working on the marketing side of things for a bit.
Most importantly taking distance from learning – and especially elearning – has allow me the perspective about how and why learning now looks the way it does.
I don’t mean this to be critical – just observing the state of the art – my most fearful prognostications have come true. For instance – the ubiquitous application of – what I call PowerPointBasedTools has had two effects. Firstly, the line between a learning designer and learning developer has been eradicated. The special knowledge and deep understanding about how to drive knowledge, skills and behaviors is – to my eye – given way to a single person.
By evidence, just look at the any jobs board for instructional or learning designer. If you can’t run Captivate et.al. you won’t find work nor land opportunities. So what you might say…2 skills for the price of one. Except that won’t carry water. Those of us brought up in the learning era built the strategies and content then handed the material off to specialists with whom they would work to build the most powerful expression of information possible. Developers who had the technical skills to program had serious backgrounds – or access to graphic designers. Thus the content was not only solid – it was delivered by real pros.
Just take a look back for a moment – those of you who have access to history – when desktop publishing programs hit the street. Everyone in the office became a de facto graphic designer and some really bad stuff was passed off as good enough. From birthday party announcements to client ready documents were produced by the same hands and in too many cases from those who had no graphic design training but could use PageMaker. (Boy am I dating myself). Well shoot forward twenty years and that’s too often the state of elearning. Just look at the preparatory courses offered in higher ed under the heading of communications or online communications or the equivalents. The emphasis is not on how and why people learn but on how to use the tool to drop in content in a logical order using templates, etc.
The second aspect to consider it the limitations of customization – though getting better – of these PowerPointBasedTools. The freedom to build learning in a non-contextual or inductive way has been pushed aside to purely deductive and linear development. There is a structure to these tools that my former team members working in – say Flash, HTML, CSS – were rarely constricted. Take apart Articulate for example and try to make it do something not designed into the template structure. Yes, there are work arounds and I;ve seen them done, but the need to conform to very formal template frames and defaults make it a chore. So, where is the benefit. Well, just like PageMaker, learn to use the tool, get your content from the provider and make it fit. I know I’m simplifying here but the point needn’t be made with a hammer.
So I’m on a project now for a worldwide client whose online learning is locked into one of these tools. And why – it’s cheaper, faster and what I call “good enough” learning. While the economics have driven online learning in the direction of pre-packaged tools only the largest projects with very special content gets the full house treatment. That is where a learning designer guides a team of developers to build something much more custom and, I believe more exciting, more compelling and hopefully a more dynamic experience.
In the end, it’s firstly what will make the learning experience compelling especially in our hyper digital online all the time environment – so much stuff flashing before us how can we pay attention to one true thing? And most critically, can custom designing yield a better result – more satisfied learners who excited by the experience have a greater take away and thus better overall results for individuals and their corporate bottom line?
Anyway, thanks for reading. Hopefully I’ll get back here more often with stories from the real world of learning design. As always I welcome your comments.