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Your Back-to-School e-Learning Shopping List

Ethan Edwards, chief instructional strategist

by Ethan Edwards, chief instructional strategist

Well, it’s “Back-to-School” time.  Ads all around are urging students of all ages to get new jeans and new notebooks and pencils and crayons.  Often our children, if not heading off to entirely new institutions of learning, are almost certainly joining new classrooms and meeting new teachers and schoolmates.  There’s something wonderful about this annual opportunity to start afresh.  We can leave the problems of a few months ago--tattered notebooks, ill-fitting clothes, seemingly pointless subjects (I just read about the controversy whether cursive writing is obsolete and should not be taught), annoying teachers—behind us as we try new things.


Wouldn’t it be great if we had a similar opportunity to start fresh in our professional training activities in creating e-learning. We are so bound by traditions set in place years ago--tools and models selected by others to fill out-of-date needs, design processes that are relics of an almost incompatible instructional paradigm, technical standards that have not been revised in too long—that we don’t have the opportunity to stop, retool, and start again.

If we had that luxury, what would be on my back-to-school required shopping list for e-learning?

  • Stock up on supplies.  Honestly reassess your Authoring tools.  As you become more experienced, it is very likely that tools that were right for you earlier no longer serve their purpose.  Think about what you want to accomplish and determine if your tools are holding you and your organization back.  Adding new tools with expanded capabilities will not make your previous work unusable, but will allow you to grow in what you can provide your learners.  The investment in purchasing new tools is relatively insignificant compared to the investment in sheer man hours that your organization makes in using them.
  • Update your wardrobe.  Don’t be afraid to come up with a new look. Update your templates, create a new graphic mood, explore new technologies to add flair and value to your lessons.  The visual impact of your lessons is one of the strongest voices you have in communicating with your audience. Circumstances, business drivers, strategies, job titles, and any number of other factors in the work environment may have changed in the last year for your leaners.  What message does it send when your training materials are still packaged and presented in models created 3 or 4 years ago?
  • Hire a new teacher or two.  I don’t mean that you necessarily have to hire new people, but you should seriously reassess how you want your e-learning to facilitate learning. Most of us necessarily start out with relatively simplistic ideas of what we can do with e-learning—usually a lot of telling and simplistic testing. That might have been acceptable as a starting place, but we need to be able to move on from there.  Unfortunately it can be difficult to break out of routines, once they are set, but if we cease to explore new and more effective methods for engaging learners, we can’t expect to remain relevant and instrumental in creating value for our organizations.
  • Join the Chess Club.  Get involved in your e-learning community. There are several really excellent organizations and networking opportunities readily available to the training community.  Plan to attend a national conference or become involved in local chapter activities. Enroll in online webinars that are offered for you to join right from your desk.  Or even make a resolution to take up some other activity that will have some carryover in what you bring to e-learning design.  e-Learning is such a multi-disciplinary field that almost anything can provide useful inputs.  Painting or drawing, theater, story-telling, tutoring, web-design, cabaret-singing, or any number of other skills can provide surprising insights into making e-learning more effective.

So think about the smell of brand new Levis…and the feel of sharpening a new pencil into a precise point…and the delight of opening a new textbook for the very first time…and the first time you got your new locker combination to work…and the mystery of what that new teacher is going to look like.  And then take your back-to-school shopping list and create all that same excitement in your e-learning projects.