A Reality Check
The e-learning marketeers would have us believe that e-learning is the fast, cheap and easy solution to all learning and performance needs. The current reality of e-learning is very different from the hype. A benchmarking study of 11 best-practice companies (Hall and LeCavalier, 2000) concluded that an e-learning implementation is as difficult, if not as costly, as an Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) implementation. Don Norman, President of UNext Learning Systems, said in an interview with Training magazine (September 2000) that he was surprised by how difficult and complex it was to develop online courses. This article will help to dispel some common misconceptions about e-learning and identify trends that could bring us closer to the reality of the "killer application" predicted by John Chambers, CEO of Cisco Systems.
is not One Entity
or one type of e-learning,
The Web can deliver any existing type of instruction: live (synchronous) instruction via video; self-paced (asynchronous) CBT/multimedia-like or print-like materials with or without interactivity, tracking, and feedback; collaborative learning activities such as online discussions (synchronous or asynchronous) among learners and instructors. It can, and does, deliver the worst and the best of any existing instructional approach, from text of lectures to monitored collaborative problem-based learning. Unfortunately, the initial uses of any new instructional medium gravitate toward more primitive instructional methods because the focus is on demonstrating that the delivery technology can work.
is not for Easy
The development and deployment of e-learning can become easier over time, if effort is invested upfront to create processes, prototypes, specifications, templates, interfaces, scripting formats, directory structures, file naming conventions, database structures and so on, that are reusable. The more sophisticated the instructional approaches selected, the more time it will take to create reusable processes and train everyone on a team to use and adhere to them. If you are not focused on reusability (and not just for content), e-learning will never get easier.
is not for ChEap
Custom development of content will never be cheap. Well over half the time and budget to develop a course will be spent on task analysis and instructional design, and the costs for those have not changed. People who have the qualifications and experience to do this type of work well are not readily available and are highly remunerated. The costs of implementing and maintaining an infrastructure to support large-scale development and delivery of sophisticated e-learning will never be cheap, whether you do it internally or contract it out.
Custom development of content will never be cheap.
If an e-learning vendor tells you that they can "convert" your content for less time and money than it would take to desktop publish it, then there will essentially be no instructional design, no customization of interface and no system for easy updating of content. Many companies are using "Web developers" who can create Web pages or Flash animations, but know nothing about instructional design or how to do all of the tasks involved in producing e-learning materials that purport to be performance-based and effective in producing workplace results. As the saying goes, "Garbage In, Garbage Out." The quality of your e-learning environment is largely a function of the quality of the instructional design: are the objectives performance objectives? Do the information and practice activities match them? Are the practice activities contextualized to reflect the job situations in which the learners will have to use the skills? Is there monitoring and feedback beyond "incorrect, try again"? If not, then it might cost less to produce, but do not expect it to achieve significant changes in workplace behaviors and accomplishments. You will end up paying for the penny-wise savings in instructional development with pound-foolish costs from trainees taking up valuable time on the job to learn skills that they may have acquired more efficiently in a well-structured online learning environment.
is not for Everything
It still will not
be easy or cheap. Nor will e-learning be the only - the miracle - solution.
What it will do, however, is truly revolutionize the way we think about
and design learning environments.
© 2000 - 2015 Harold D. Stolovitch & Erica J. Keeps