What It Means To Modernize

By Ryan Tracey / March 2012

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In their haste to modernize their learning model, some organizations are dispensing with face-to-face delivery in favor of online courses. And I think it's a mistake. By migrating content from workbooks to Scorm packages, all they are doing is jumping from one formal mode of delivery to another, with a bunch of new problems thrown in. Yes, online distribution and auto-marking are wonderfully useful, but there is another way.

The Myth of Rapid Authoring

One of the forces driving organizations toward online learning is the desire to rapidly develop content. Of course, this opportunity is met by a plethora of so-called rapid authoring tools in the market place. No longer do L&D professionals have to pay eye-popping fees to outsourced developers. These days anyone can create online courses and distribute them via the corporate LMS. The problem is, it's not truly rapid. Here's why.

No matter how user friendly it is, whichever software you choose will be different from what everyone else is already using in their day-to-day work. That means convincing your boss to buy a license, and pleading your case to a middle manager in IT as to why you deserve non-standard software. Once you have to go ahead, you purchase it, download it, attempt to install it, get blocked because you don't have local admin rights, and end up begging the tech guy to install it for you. After 14 days you call him back because he didn't register it properly. And when you're finally up and running, you're the only one who knows how to use the software (assuming you do). So everyone's eLearning development demands are now being funneled to you since you're the expert, right? Due process goes out the window, the "approved" content changes countless times, SMEs don't get back to you, the number of reviewers spirals upwards, and everyone's feedback contradicts each other.

Against the odds you finally publish the course and test it umpteen times. After fixing a series of niggling problems, you upload it to the LMS and run a live test. Something is wrong—it's not completing, or maybe the scoring is faulty. So you reopen the package, diagnose the problem, fix it, republish, reupload, and retest. Finally it's ready. Unfortunately no one knows how to log into the LMS, let alone register for the course, and launch it. Those who do just want to pass the quiz and be done with it, never to return. Besides, the LMS isn't optimized for mobile.

By the way, the law recently changed, a policy was revised, or someone sneezed—whatever the case, you need to update the content. That means starting from scratch, again.

So after this redo, what happens when you stumble upon an insightful video clip or a brilliant infographic. Do you add it to the course? Of course not, it's not worth the anguish! And in the meantime, your queue of eLearning jobs grows longer and longer.

This isn't modernizing your learning model. It's inefficient and unsustainable, and it's certainly not rapid.

An Alternative to Consider

Instead of migrating your bulk content to an online course, suppose you move it to a wiki where the content is centralized and easily accessible to all employees. The wiki stands apart from the LMS. It's available for just-in-time retrieval, browsing, searching, and ongoing reference. It can also be accessed on-the-job via a mobile device.

By definition, wikis are so user friendly that anyone (and I mean anyone) can use them. Suddenly SMEs are back in the game, now they can develop and update their own content directly. If you stumble upon an insightful video clip or a brilliant infographic, great! Forward it to the SME and suggest they add it to the mix.

This is a whole new ball game. It's efficient, sustainable, and scalable. And it's rapid.

Essentially what I am describing is an Informal Learning Environment (ILE). Unlike an online course, an ILE is strictly informal. The learner can explore the content at their own pace and at their own discretion. No forced navigation, no pass mark, no completion status. Combine the wiki with an open discussion forum and meaningful SME profiles, and you empower the learner to drive their own development.

Of course there are some things that the company must know—for example, how its employees are faring. You must include assessments as part of the LMS, linked to required competencies. As a standalone, an assessment respects the fact that people learn all over the place. They might have attended seminars, read books, or been coached by peers. They might have explored the wiki, or asked questions on the discussion forum, or sought advice from an SME. Perhaps a previous employer trained them. The formal assessment represents the sum of that learning.

If I worked for an organization that was hell bent on developing reams of online courses in the name of modernization, my advice would be to think twice. Informalizing the learning and formalizing its assessment might make a lot more sense.

About the Author

Ryan Tracey is the E-Learning Manager at AMP, a financial services organization based in Sydney, Australia. His work focuses on adult learning in the corporate sector, and he maintains a particular interest in blended learning, informal learning and social media. Tracey has worked in the eLearning field for several years in the finance industry, following several more years in the higher education market. He holds a master's degree in Learning Sciences and Technology from the University of Sydney. He is a regular contributor to various industry magazines, and he has won several training awards in the Asia-Pacific region. He blogs as the E-Learning Provocateur and can be found on Twitter @ryantracey.

Copyright is held by the author. ACM 1535-394X/12/02 $10.00

DOI: 10.1145/2157652.2157653

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