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What's So Bad About Boring e-Learning?

Ethan Edwards | Upcoming Webinar | Never Create Boring e-Learning Again“Never Create Boring e-Learning Again.” That’s the title of a webinar I’m presenting next week. “No Boring e-Learning” is a statement we at Allen Interactions have been repeating for years. “The online modules we build are so boring” is a statement told and retold by my students who take the ATD e-Learning Instructional Design Certificate Program I frequently facilitate.


But what makes so much e-learning so boring? It’s easy to identify a problem, not so simple to fix it. Hoping for a new source of inspiration in addressing this hurdle, I sought definitions of “boring” online. Most definitions were nearly identical (this one happens to be from the American Heritage Dictionary):

bor·ing
ˈbôriNG/
adjective
    uninteresting and tiresome; dull;
 
synonyms: tedious, dull, monotonous, repetitive, unrelieved, unvaried, uninmaginative, uneventful

While this describes much e-learning pretty accurately, it’s hard to know what to do with it. So I kept looking.

And then I found something on thesaurus.com that revealed the problem with a new slant for me:

Boring—so lacking in interest as to cause mental weariness.  Deadening, ho-hum, irksome, tedious, tiresome, wearisome, dull, slow

Mental weariness. Irksomeness. Deadening. These reveal the real cost of creating boring e-learning―the debilitating effect it has on the learner. One can excuse text presented poorly. One cannot (or at least, should not) excuse creating mental weariness, or stupefying the learner.

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The difference here is subtle but significant. The traditional view allows us to too easily accept boring as something embodied in the content. With that view, our efforts to relieve boredom focus too much on simply changing the content presentation: add video, create an avatar to read the content, use prettier pictures, play it through a tablet, etc. However, none of these things address the aspects raised in the second definition: that is, the impact on the learner’s mental engagement.

So when we seek to never create boring e-learning again, we need to abandon our focus on dressing up content, and instead, we need to start by creating an experience in which the learner is at the center. Primary focus switches from “is it accurate?” to “is it relevant?;” from “can I be sure you’re not cheating?” to “can I inspire you to apply yourself?;” from “can you parrot back what I tell you?” to “can you meaningfully apply what you have discovered?”

Join me on Tuesday, October 21st, at 1 pm Eastern, when I’ll share some insights and models to apply to your own design process to avoid the trap of creating boring e-learning. I will also share a number of real-life examples that best exemplify what I think of as the opposite of boring e-learning.

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