ACM Logo  An ACM Publication  |  CONTRIBUTE  |  FOLLOW    

Nelson Croom's e-Learning Crusade

By Bob Little / May 2011

Print Email
Comments (1) Instapaper

Nelson Croom's e-Learning Crusade

May 24, 2011

At this year's Learning Technologies conference in London, Alan Nelson of Nelson Croom shared his thought on "the good, the bad and the ugly of e-learning." Before deciding on what is "good" and what is "bad" in e-learning, we need to acknowledge that we're all different, so our experiences and preferences will be different, he later clarified. Moreover, we're not even consistent about the way in which we're different—and that means that our preferred learning style will change from situation to situation.

Nelson goes on to argue that e-learning has never risen beyond the lowest two levels of Bloom's taxonomy as applied to the cognitive domain (remembering and understanding). He maintains that e-learning materials should not only address the higher levels of this taxonomy (applying, analysing, evaluating and creating) but also address Bloom's taxonomy as applied to the affective domain, which attempts to explain the way people react emotionally and, thus, change their attitudes and behavior.

Some 25 years ago, two researchers, Malone and Lepper, looking at factors affecting intrinsic motivation, said: "It seems a frequent assumption that learning (and, now, e-learning) is boring and unpleasant drudgery—something one endures only to avoid punishment or to achieve some goal, such as a high-paying job."

Their answer was to come up with seven factors affecting intrinsic motivation: challenge, curiosity, control, fantasy, competition, cooperation and recognition.

Thus, people are motivated: when they are working towards personally meaningful goals; by the discrepancy between present knowledge or skills and what could be achieved; when they can control what happens to them; when they can imagine relating what they are learning to real life settings; when they can compare their performance favorably to others; when they can feel satisfaction from helping others, and when others recognize and appreciate their accomplishments.

This is what good e-learning should be, says Nelson, who then outlines three dangers for e-learning:

  1. If was already bad, putting it online won't make it better.
  2. Just because it works well in a different medium doesn't mean it should work well online.
  3. "Putting learners in control" means more than merely letting them click the "next" button.

According to Jacqui Nelson, of Nelson Croom, "We've made it a bit of a mission to try and raise the bar in the industry." That, of course, is highly commendable and Alan Nelson has made some good points in outlining his view on how to spot the good and the bad in e-learning materials.

However, the growth in popularity and use of rapid authoring tools, combined with today's economic challenges leading to cost-cutting wherever possible, means that subject matter experts—and not professional e-learning developers—are taking control of producing e-learning content. The days when the person who's developing e-learning materials will know about Gagne, Reigeluth, Maslow et al—et alone understand and apply their various teachings to the materials being produced—are fast disappearing.

We seem to be entering a new era in e-learning content creation. Immediacy and expediency, not instructional design fidelity, are the new watchwords. After all—as Nelson says—e-learning today is really only about addressing "remembering and understanding." It may be a controversial opinion but, at such a low level of cognition, maybe any old approach to producing learning will do.

About the Author

For more than 20 years, Bob Little has specialized in writing about, and commentating on, corporate learning—especially e-learning—and technology-related subjects. His work has been published in the U.K., Europe, the U.S., and Australia. Contact Bob at [email protected].


  • Fri, 27 May 2011
    Post by Alan Nelson

    Oh dear. I think you're probably right. But that means the summary is: "Most elearning is pretty awful and it's getting worse." That maybe true but it makes me think that I haven't done anything very constructive! Next time I will try to come up with some more useful pointers that can help people get better. In practice of course, all to often the difference between an elearning professional and a user of a rapid development tool, is that the professional can do wizzier things. I'm not convinced that improves the learning much. A really good L&D practitioner could, with some serious thought, come up with something good using rapid tools. Food for thought.....