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Why is Good eLearning So Rare?

Michael250.pngBy Michael Allen, Chairman & CEO, Allen Interactions 

One might ask a broader question, just for perspective: Why is good training so rare? Indeed, all of us have been in programs where we wished the clock on the wall would tick faster. We’ve tried to stay focused. Tried to stay awake. But annoyance and thoughts of how great it will be when the class is over become all we can think about.

So, perhaps elearning doesn’t have a greater share of the boring training market than any other form of instruction. But I can’t take comfort in that.


A major advantage of elearning is its consistency. There are so many variables in various forms of instruction, whether it’s the difference between which instructor you get, the people in your social learning group, the facilities and resources you can use, or any other factors. These variables can affect the quality of learning experiences in profound ways, especially when it comes down to meeting the specific needs of each individual learner.


Another major advantage of elearning is its ability to be delivered quickly to very large learner audiences. Once an elearning-based program is developed, delivery costs are minimal (if we ignore the cost of learner time, which is typically much shorter with well-designed programs, regardless of delivery platform). eLearning can reach learners wherever they may be and at any time they’re available.

When Good Things Are Bad

The irony here is that these two unique and prized attributes turn disruptive when the elearning is poor. Consistently bad instruction is less desirable than instruction that is sometimes good. At least some learners get an experience they value. And with its broad reach, causing a lot of people to waste their time isn’t better than causing fewer to do so.

I think elearning amplifies our work. If we create great elearning, it’s practicality, eLearning Course
consistency, and reach make it all that much greater than delivering expensive, variable
learning experiences to only a few learners. But this very amplification demands quality. Obviously. So why isn’t all elearning fantastic?

Clearly there are factors impinging upon the design and development of elearning, just as there are for all forms of instruction. The problem with elearning is that the stakes are higher. Effective elearning has great comparative value, whereas poor elearning does greater comparative damage, whether through wasted time, lost opportunities, a disenchanted workforce, accidents, or many other possible consequences of needlessly poor performance.

Greater Risks and Opportunities

Although all forms of instruction have constraints within which to work, we need to be more diligent with elearning because of its greater risks and opportunities. It’s low delivery costs should channel some of the savings into more meticulous design, which not only serves to minimize risks, but also to increase the value returned from the time learners spend learning.

It would seem the case would be easy to make, yet many organizations choose to pocket the savings from lower delivery costs and keep design and development working within such tight constraints that only miracles could produce learning programs that actually changed behavior and improved results.


While many organizations are finding that quality training is the most affordable training and that poor training is just too expensive, many of us suffer under very tight constraints. What’s one to do?

Well, let me say that while there’s no simple answer, I think some formalisms regarding the process of instructional design are too formal and provide additional constraints—the very opposite of what we need. I’ve expounded elsewhere in books, webinars, and conference presentations that we need to simplify what we do and focus on the very most important factors. We need to make the most out of every minute we have and every resource we can call upon.

For now, I’ll just list the Six Simple Success Strategies I find can make a huge difference:

1) As you design, ask yourself, would you really want to learn this content in this way? Be brutally honest.

2) Make sure your instructional strategies are well matched to the outcomes you care about.

3) Challenge (and reject) “awareness” goals.

4) Design backward, from the last learning experience to the first.

5) Build on CCAF (context, challenge, activity, and feedback) components.

6) Provide emotion-arousing experiences, not just information presentations.

Upcoming ATD Webcast - Six Simple Success eLearning Success Strategies

If you are intrigued by these six simple elearning success strategies, join me in an ATD webcast on Monday, May 8th where I will dig deeper into each one to help you achieve powerful results, win greater support, and make your work easier—all at the same time! Learn more and register here!

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