The first is that most good instruction is based on sound instructional theory and design. I think most e-learning developers would agree that many of the early attempts at e-learning were not based on a lot of e-learning-specific instructional research. I’m not saying that the industry created these programs in a vacuum, but the simple fact is that it was an emerging field, and little research existed. That has changed. Many researchers, such as Ruth Clark and others, have released very powerful data that is helping developers design better tools. It is in the CLO’s best interest to study and understand such theories and research. Unlike the brick-and-mortar days of training when you would walk into a training center and check things out, e-learning can be authored anywhere and by anyone. Sound and defendable instructional design needs to be at the core of any e-learning purchase or implementation.
A second issue regards aligning instruction and the use of its tools to the business outcomes of the learners, their departments and the organization at large. No learning methodology can be effective if it isn’t mapped to a measurable and relevant outcome. Our attempt at using the VCR was doomed to failure because we were confusing implementation with outcome. Addressing this issue will involve a lot of up-front work that training hasn’t always been involved with, or very good at. Again, I’m not saying that training hasn’t tried being more business-relevant, but it is an area that many training organizations have been closed out of, or not as involved in as they should be. E-learning has pushed many training departments to be much more engaged with the business units they support. Since e-learning can live at the desktop, learning has to be more focused and relevant if it is to survive. Early utilization numbers surrounding e-learning have taught us, among other things, that if the content is not outcome-focused, it simply doesn’t get used.
A final issue to consider is the blending of this new tool with the old. Few, if any, educational tools, including the classroom, have been effective as the instructional tool that meets everyone’s learning needs. Because of the many e-learning tools that have emerged, the training industry is better positioned than ever to offer highly customized and tailored learning. E-learning should not be a replacement for existing methodologies, but should be seen as one more set of tools that makes the entire experience of learning that much more effective. Blending isn’t easy. As this article implies, it’s not good enough to simply offer many options and think that learners will choose effectively. In fact, some research implies that, if left to choose on their own, learners may make poor “tool” choices. It is up to each training department to help the organization define and adopt a blended-learning strategy that maps to its existing learning culture and outcomes. Only when these issues are considered ahead of the tools do effective blended-learning programs emerge.
The list of failed learning tools is long and illustrious. The question that needs to be asked is: How many of them failed because of the tool, and how many failed because of the way the training organization used them? A tool is only as good as the skilled carpenter who carries it. How schooled are we at using e-learning to build effective instruction? Only the outcome will tell.
Bob Mosher is the director, learning evangelism and strategy for Microsoft Learning. He has been an influential leader in the IT training space for more than 15 years. For more information, e-mail Bob at email@example.com.