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Yes Virginia, There is Engaging e-Learning

describe the imageby Ethan Edwards, chief instructional strategist

I received this email this week from a reader:

Dear Ethan:  I am 38 years old.  Some of my co-workers and my manager say there is no such thing as engaging e-learning.  My cubicle mate says ‘If you see it in the Allen Interactions Thought Leadership Blog it’s so.’  Please tell me the truth; is there engaging e-learning?

Virginia O’Hanlon
115 West Ninety-fifth Street

Virginia, your little co-workers are wrong.  They have been affected by the limitations of simplistic design processes, distractions afforded by misapplied interactive media, failures to incorporate appropriate visual elements to bring meaning to content, over-reliance on “telling” in place of learning experiences, and misplaced faith in technology to teach with no particular specialized design effort.  They think that nothing can be that is not achievable by their little budgets and immediate timelines.  All budgets, Virginia, whether they be for a global corporate training effort or a mere one-person development team, are little.  The grand challenge of creating performance change in our learners given the boundless complexity of teaching can be overwhelming given these limitations.

describe the imageYes, Virginia, there is engaging e-learning.  It exists as certainly as creativity and curiosity and vision exist, and you know that they abound in other areas of training and professional development.  Alas! How dreary are e-learning programs that fail to understand learners’ needs and motivations.  There would be no context, no no meaningful challenge or risk, no meaningful actions, no corrective intrinsic feedback to make meaningful and memorable the valuable time spent in training.  e-Learning would be a dreary experience in which no one takes enjoyment.  The drive for insight and creativity that drives all growth and progress would be extinguished.

Not believe in the possibility of engaging e-learning!  You might as well not believe in the impact of Google. You might get your organization to implement undifferentiated templates of text-heavy PowerPoint slides interrupted by meaningless trivia questions tracked immediately in your LMS, but when your learners abandon e-learning out of boredom, what would that prove? Did you ever experience co-workers using the Web to solve mysteries, achieve results earlier thought out of reach, communicate and collaborate with co-workers near and far, explore newly-available reference materials to solve problems facing your business? These things are real and valuable insights into how learners can be motivated.  Just because they are missing from the tedious traditional e-learning with which most people are familiar does not mean that they could not have just as significant impact in formal training as they do in casual, self-directed professional development.  Nobody can conceive or imagine all the wonders there are yet unseen in the world of e-learning.

You can tear apart a Flash program and see how the various pieces are orchestrated in the timeline or download yet another PowerPoint template, but there is also a craft of instructional design that combines art and science that can not be collapsed into a simple, cookbook-like sequence of steps to follow.  Technical expertise and access to technology are necessary, but only an open-mind, experimental thinking, prototyping of new ideas, collaborative development across team members, early testing with potential users, and constant awareness of what motivates your learners can push aside that shade of boring e-learning and really engage learners in compelling learning experiences.  Is it all real?  Ah, Virginia, in all the world of training there is nothing else real and abiding.

No engaging e-learning!  Thank heavens! It’s possible and within your grasp and it can have real, long-lasting impact.  A year from now, Virginia, nay, ten times ten years from now, your efforts might continue to make glad the hearts of your learners.

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