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Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Rapid E-Learning Trade-Offs

This month the Big Question on the Learning Circuit’s blog has to do with rapid e-learning.

“What are the trade offs between quality learning programs and rapid e-learning and how do you decide?”

I have done some previous writing on the topic of rapid e-learning:

Learning at Byte Speed
Speed is King: Rapid Creation and Deployment of Enterprise E-Learning Solutions

Also, call it fate or good timing, I have just been interviewed on this very topic for the February issue of T&D Magazine. So you can read more of my thoughts on rapid e-learning in the magazine. In the meantime, here is a sneak preview.

Just because we have developed tools to create e-learning rapidly…that doesn’t mean we can design effective learning more quickly than in the past. In fact, what most often passes for rapid e-learning is a poorly designed slide show presentations developed at a moment’s notice with bullets and a bad voice over from a rushed trainer or developer.

A good example of the forces at work to push rapid e-learning is given by Howard Cronin. His post sums up some of the pressures we get from management. Often training professionals are not given the same time frame as software developers or others and then we are told to develop training at the last minute and, like dutiful soldiers, we develop it at the last minute (we have too or be out of a job). Unfortunately, the thinking from us and management seems to be “It isn’t what we want, it isn’t really effective but…hey its done.”

And, since our industry does a horrible job of evaluating our successes (or lack thereof) no one everyone is seemingly happy.

To me one of the most telling comments on this entire topic was posted by Will Thalheimer in a post titled Simple Performance Improvement. Check the Clock.

Will reports on an article indicating that doctors who take longer to perform a critical procedure to identify potentially cancerous polyps during a routine colonoscopy find more polyps than doctors who rush through. It seems so obvious...but...The lesson, speed is not always a virtue. But for some reason we think it is a virtue in and of itself.

But I do believe that Yes, we can reduce the DEVELOPMENT time but I am not sure we can reduce the design time.

Design is the “secret sauce” that we instructional designers should be adding to the sea of information that surrounds our internal and external clients. Only we (if you believe we are skilled professionals) can identify the content to be learned and then, using instructional strategies, research and proper instructional sequencing… design instruction that helps learners retain the information they are to learn. We design conceptual lessons with examples and non-examples, we teach procedural knowledge through decomposition and other strategies.

We should applaud the reduction in time for the development process of creating e-learning. But we should not allow for a reduction in DESIGN time. I know that designers face the issue of push back from clients all the time and, as Wendy Wickham, has mentioned before…not everyone is in the positon to push back. So, I don't want to seem too ivory tower...but are we getting short term relief while courting longer term problems (hey, it only took you 2 weeks for the last e-learning module…do this one in a week and a half)

Trade Offs
So what are the trade offs, well we have three general areas, Quality, Speed and Cost (really four, see below)

When we rapidly develop e-learning we often eliminate motivational aspects of the instruction, we often eliminate sound instructional strategies. We often remove context such as the use of scenarios or case studies, we often reduce the amount of feedback provided to the learner, we reduce the amount of analysis we do to make sure we are even creating instructional that is valuable in the first place. Sometimes we even just copy and paste from the procedure manual.

Rapid e-learning is not impossible to do effectively, we just need to be rational about the word “rapid” and I completely agree with Clive Shepherd when he writes;
Who says e-learning materials that take a long time to produce are necessarily high quality, let alone relevant or effective?

So, maybe the real question is how to we balance quality, speed and cost, and, I will add, learning. I think of these items as sliders on a stereo system (if anyone remembers those) we have to seek balance by moving the sliders to the right and to the left to seek the right balance.

So the trade offs are many, the answers are not simple but we must strive to inform all of our stakeholders that when one slider is pushed to the far end in one direction, another slider is pushed to the far end in the opposite direction and the results may not be pretty.

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Tony Karrer said...

Great post Karl. I found myself nodding a lot. Any thoughts on how to judge the balance between the four? And do you believe you can do it iteratively?

Dave Lee said...

The comments on this post are being tracked and aggregated as part of Learning Circuits Blog's The Big Question for January. Thanks for participating, Karl!

Anonymous said...

Hi Karl! I must say,a very well thought post. As rightly commented by you, the real question today is how to we balance quality, speed and cost, and, learning. Moving with the shifting paradigms, tools to create e-learning rapidly would gain utmost importance & they would become key deciding factors for design, development and delivery of quality eLearning courses. Here, I would like to make a mention of one such elearning tool -Raptivity 4.0. Raptivity, the world’s first rapid interactivity builder, helps users create true learning outcomes with meaningful interactivity. With Raptivity, users can create learning interactions, rather trackable learning interactions and add it conveniently to their eLearning content without compromising on quality, speed and learning experience. A great tool to be on all elearning content creators desktops!

Karl Kapp said...

Tony, Thanks, I plan to write more on this in the near future, some many things to balance and consider. I think some can be done iteratively but a strategies of nothing more than multiple attempts to get it right are not effective.

Dave, thanks for the chance to participate.

Saru, thanks for your comment and a little information on your product. Always good to keep up with what is happening with technologies in terms of learning and e-learning


Anonymous said...

Hi Karl, these are same great thoughts. I would like to make a slight tweak to your 4 sliders concept (Quality, cost, speed and Learning)

At the end of the day, what is quality - A product which drives home a great learning experience and records tangible results across all levels of evaluation. I see the words "Quality" and "Learning" as synonyms in this context of our discussion.

The best place to judge the balance between the 3(Quality - Learning, Cost and Speed could be made at the analysis phase of any learning requirement. This is the place you would ask the right questions in relation to TNA, skill gaps, deployment and roll out plan, budgetary considerations, end user eligibility, prior learning experience etc (I might not have covered everything over here), and accordingly plan, revise your instructional strategy.

Across the 3 sliders, "Quality-Learning" is a constant (always on the max side of the scale) while speed and cost are variables (based on your strategy) as no matter what path you take; you would always want the learning to be relevant, effective and most importantly learner centric.