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Freedom from Wasted Training: The e-Learning Bill of Rights

by Ethan Edwards, chief instructional strategist

Ethan Edwards | Custom e-Learning | Ethan Edwards Blogs | e-Learning Bill of Rights | Learner EffectivenessAs we approach the Fourth of July here in the United States, I am reminded that a communal understanding and agreement of the basic rights of all people is necessary to maintain those freedoms for the good of all.  Without those standards being explicitly stated, it is so easy for ideas that once seemed core to one’s life, to erode in the push to achieve more individualized and immediate motives.

One of my greatest frustrations in working in e-learning for so many years, is that as technologies come and go, the rights and values of the learner are repeatedly compromised in preference to arbitrary limitations set by software, management systems, unrealistic development environments, impossible performance expectations, etc.  In pursuing some particular development goal, the central importance of the learner experience is lost, or at least muddled.

I’d like to propose this e-Learning Bill of Rights as a means to refocus our attention and dedication for the core reason we engage in training in the first place: to improve the readiness and ability for learners to perform effectively in a target environment.

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1. Learners shall not be subject to boring e-learning.

This seems almost too simple, but it needs to be stated.  Boring e-learning fails to engage the learner’s mind, and without that basic motivation and action, nothing can happen even when the learner goes through all the required motions.

2. Learners shall not be victims of unreasonable testing. 

Somewhere along the line, perhaps because of the similarity between the types of questioning formats made easy by so many authoring tools and the forms of standardized tests, almost all online interactivity has been reduced to testing rather than the exploration, investigation, experimentation, and trial-and-error activities that are at the core of learning.

3. Learners will not be unreasonably restricted in terms of pacing and sequence. 

Learner control of the learning environment is essential for self-directed learning.  Without the ability to choose, even in simple ways, the pace and the sequence (perhaps looking ahead to preview upcoming content, unrestricted review of related content, skipping optional related topics), learners quickly can take the role of victims being led aimlessly through a fixed path.

4. Learners shall not be inundated with irrelevant multimedia treatments that add complexity rather than clarity.

The value of media treatments (graphics, animation, video, audio) is undeniable when used appropriately, but can completely destroy learning if it is used to mask the underlying void of careful instructional design.  Instead, media must be used as a valuable tool to achieve specific outcomes within an instructionally sound framework. 

5. Learners will receive corrective helpful feedback in response to challenges.

Feedback that merely judges (e.g., “Incorrect, try again”) is most times unhelpful in supporting the learner.  It is difficult, in most non-testing interactions, to be aided by just being told to improve when given no clue as to the nature of the mistake or any additional guidance in achieving success.  Feedback must address the learner’s specific failures and provide some level of direction to help the learner move in toward “correctness.”

6. Learners will be free from the burden of unreasonable quantities of content imposed upon them as stipulated by subject matter experts.

Learning is a process that takes time; rehearsal of new information and skills must be done in reasonable chunks. Packing too much content into a single e-learning module prevents any portion of it from being mastered.

7. Learners deserve an individualized, adaptive experience. 

Too many e-learning lessons demand the identical learning experience for all learners.  This has always been one of the major problems with classroom instruction (everyone gets the same instruction regardless of individual differences) and yet it is propagated in e-learning.  Ironically, it was the ability to customize the experience through individualized feedback and branching that is one of the critical properties that is at the root of using computers to teach.  We can still hold learners to a uniform level of performance when doing final evaluation, but the learning experience must provide individualized flexibility.

8. These rights shall not be compromised simply because training is labeled “regulatory” or “compliance.”

“Regulatory” and “Compliance” do not mean unimportant.  In fact, they generally indicate areas of greater significance…and often greater challenge to teach effectively.  Perhaps they are regulated specifically because too often they are eliminated or overlooked because they are particularly challenging to teach.  In any case, ALL e-learning must provide meaningful, memorable, and motivational experiences.

9.  

10. 

You’ve noticed that I’ve left numbers 9 and 10 blank.  I have additional rights that I could place there, but I really want to hear what others would add to this list of inalienable rights for e-learners.  Feel free to post your ideas as comments to this post. 

For those of you in the United States, have a safe and happy holiday.  For those of you in places where July 4th isn’t a holiday, have a safe and happy time as well! 

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