Shakespeare’s Juliet asked, “What’s in a name? That which we call a rose, by any other name would smell as sweet.” It’s obvious that Juliet never worked in a large, complex, political organization!
We need to understand that names, labels and titles really do matter. They provide structure and clarity in most companies, a common language for investors and industry analysts and a mental framework for customers. I’ve seen terminology limit roles and responsibilities and carve up budgets. So despite its simplicity, a very important question is “How does your organization define e-learning?”
Google provides more than 40,000 pages related to the “definition of e-learning”:
- Ranging from the specific: “E-learning is the delivery of interactive, multimedia tutorials via the Internet.”
- To the process-oriented: “E-learning is the process of combining content with support and community.”
- To the visionary: “E-learning is the delivery of training anywhere and at any time.”
Personally, I think the most empowering and accurate definition I’ve seen to date comes from Marc Rosenberg: “E-learning refers to the use of Internet technologies to deliver a broad array of solutions that enhance knowledge and performance.” It’s intentionally broad enough to include the related fields of knowledge management, content management and performance support.
If we use a broad definition, we can see the many successes of e-learning and even see how it has permeated our everyday lives. My four-year-old daughter asked me recently, “Daddy, are bears nocturnal?” After making sure she knew what the word “nocturnal” meant, I began to answer Yes. But then I recalled all those pictures of grizzlies scooping salmon out of rivers in the shimmering sun. Hmm, better not answer so fast. Since I have broadband in my house along with a wireless network, I turned to my laptop and searched for “bears nocturnal” on Google, and in a 10th of a second I received 20,500 pages of information. Of course, it only took the first page to let me know that bears are mostly nocturnal (it depends on the season and how hungry the bears are). Was this e-learning? By most definitions, no. There was no support, community, multimedia, tracking or structured ISD process. Were digital technologies involved? Yes. Did my daughter and I learn something? Yes again. To me, that makes it an e-learning experience.
Imagine that learning experience—er, e-learning experience—in connection with your business. What worked for bears could work for lessons on change management, tips for more successful sales, managerial training of all sorts or whatever the specific employee’s specific need may be.
The Web browser was invented only 10 years ago, and technology-based learning has made incredible strides in only a decade. While many are disappointed with recent experiences, static course catalogs and linear tutorials do have their place in our arsenal. But it is also true that for our industry to survive, we must achieve better learning results, and better business results. We do indeed need more simulations, learning embedded in workflow, collaboration tools, mobile learning, etc. But again, e-learning is not any one of those things—it is all of those things.
We will eventually adopt a new name for e-learning (or just drop the “e-”) but just not today. Rather than focusing on a name change, we should invest our energy into the challenge task of making e-learning a productivity multiplier, not a cost-saver. Defining our roles and missions broadly will empower us to tackle business-critical issues with the widest array of tools.
Kevin Kruse is a principal with Kenexa, and facilitator of www.e-learningguru.com. For more information, e-mail Kevin at firstname.lastname@example.org.