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The Legendary Bad e-Learning at Sleepy Hollow, Inc.

By Edmond ManningSenior Instructional Strategist

ManningEdmondNot far from this village, perhaps two miles, there is a little valley among high hills, which is one of the quietest places in the whole world. A small brook glides through it, with just enough of a murmur to lull one to repose. The occasional whistle of a quail, or tapping of a woodpecker, is almost the only sound that ever breaks in upon the uniform tranquility. 

Here in this idyllic setting could be found the once thriving corporation, Sleepy Hollow, Incorporated.

The employees of Sleepy Hollow, Inc. were a superstitious lot, furnishing many a wild story in that region of shadows. They believed in a server (with goblin green lights) that maliciously crashed every Friday the 13th and a Director of Marketing that could make his direct reports work every weekend. Yet, no greater tale be retold in soft whispers at the vending machines than that of Sleepy Hollow, Inc.'s Headless HRS man.

According to some, he was an inhuman agent of Human Resource Services. Others said he was a senior executive wandering far from the C-level lounge, furious, confused, and despairing to get back, firing any employee in his way. Whatever his origins, all agreed the inescapable fate for any employee who met this mysterious fiend in darkened corridors: heads rolled.

In this by-place of nature, there abode, a worthy wight of the name Ichabod Crane who, as he expressed it, 'tarried' in Sleepy Hollow, Inc. Ichabod cared little for the legendary headless HRS man, for he felt himself well beyond the reach of such a grisly and undignified fate.

"I create e-learning." Crane remarked smugly, "It’s a job-secure future. I have no fears of my longevity."

"Prithee, Ichabod," murmured Kathy from Accounting, "Take heed! There is talk that the HRS man quests for ROI like no human creature who doth walk this verdant Earth!"

"My last product knowledge e-learning course had a completion rate of 72%," laughed Crane, chomping a rosy, harvest apple, "I am in a growing technology field. What creature dare reproach me?"

In undertones, his coworkers speculated on his lack of contributions to the ultimate success of their Sleepy Hollow, Inc. initiatives, and shook their heads sadly as he clucked about their worries.

One night—late night—Ichabod grew weary-eyed QA-ing a soon-to-be-ignored new employee orientation e-learning module. The module outlined the importance of company values while providing no relevance to new employees. It was this very witching time of night that Ichabod pursued his travel homewards. He powered down his laptop and turned out the lights. No signs of life occurred near him, but occasionally the melancholy chirp of a cricket, or perhaps the quiet rumbling of a vending machine, as if sleeping fitfully through a dark dream.

As Ichabod approached the eighth floor's darkened conference room, he recalled that this was one of the favorite haunts of the headless HRS man, and the place where he was most frequently encountered. All the tales of this fiend—told in that drowsy undertone with which consultants talk in the dark—sank deep in the mind of Ichabod.

Though resolved not to glance inside while trotting by, Ichabod could not help but spy within its dark and purple shadows something huge, misshapen, black and towering. It stirred not, but seemed gathered up in the gloom, like some gigantic monster ready to spring upon the traveler.

To turn and fly was now too late—and besides, what chance was there of escaping ghost or goblin, if such it was, which could ride upon the wings of the wind? Summoning up, therefore, a show of courage he demanded in stammering accents, "Who are you?"

He received no reply.

Ichabod fled.

If I can but reach my Saturn coupe, thought Ichabod, I am safe.

Ichabod raced to the elevator bay, desperately punching Down, Down, Down! But after seeing a looming shadow draw nigh, he escaped through the stairwell. He clattered and clomped down flight after flight noisily, as if riding an old nag clipping and clopping o'er dusty cobblestone. He galloped and leapt, gasping and wheezing, sounding like an old nag himself.

He burst into the Sleepy Hollow, Inc. first floor foyer, an explosion of gangly arms and legs ripping over each other. Just a few more feet! A mere stone's throw to escape! The parking garage entrance lay beyond the trickling Zen fountain with its miniature moss-covered bridge.

Just then, he heard a sound like a steed panting and blowing close behind him; he even felt a hot breath. The HRS man was right behind him.

Ichabod threw up his hands and cried out supplications.

"I created 29 e-learning courses in PowerPoint last year! Doesn't that mean something?"

The dark figure advanced.

"I never complained once about having too small a budget!" cried Ichabod, "I tried to keep as far from our business initiatives as possible! To not be in the way!"

Still, the dark figure advanced.

Ichabod tripped backwards into the fountain, hands flailing and flapping as if swimming away were an option.

"What did you want? What did you think e-learning could do?" Ichabod wailed into the dark, dark night.

Did the headless HRS man answer? Did the gentle whir of heating vents sound like a whispered reply? What exactly did Ichabod hear?

The residents of Sleepy Hollow, Inc. never knew.

The next morning, Ichabod's cubicle was empty. Rumor had it he was creating terrible e-learning at one of those other places, a big firm where mousey instructional designers can nibble from corporate cheese without drawing attention. Those who saw the water splashed o'er the marble foyer say he met his fate in the corporate fountain, that dark Tuesday night.

Others shrug and care not to discuss such bad fortune. The truth, they say, can be heard whispered 'round the blackened hallways of Sleepy Hollow, Inc. when only the lonely gurgle of a water cooler can interrupt the soft footfalls of the headless HRS man.

He searches, they say, for those who can produce. And for those who cannot, he has no patience. Is it the heating vents? Or could it be he sought, whispering through long empty corridors this lonely, lonely word: results.

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Michael Allen's Guide to eLearning: 2nd Edition