Rapid e-Learning : The Emperor’s New Clothes?


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How to make the most out of rapid e-learning development

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Rapid e-Learning : The Emperor’s New Clothes?

  1. 1. 16 Rapid e-Learning : The Emperor’s New Clothes? Fast, Faster, Supersonic The generators take content developed in PowerPoint and allow you to generate Flash based courses. Audio, video, animations, This year’s catchphrase is undoubtedly quizzes and learning games can all be rapid e-learning. And, it seems, the faster included. Many of these tools come with pre- the better. Everywhere you look, gurus pop built components such as multiple choice up to tell you about the latest process and quizzes, drag-and-drop interactions and so newest tools, all designed to help you to on. They usually provide the code to allow you build e-learning at the speed of light. to integrate your e-learning with your SCORM compliant Learning Management System. The idea of rapid e-learning is that if you The generators, however, can be limited in can put the development tools in the hands what you can do beyond the pre-defined of the Subject Matter Expert, you can save components and can restrict your flexibility yourself time and money. The tools are in when it comes to the look and feel. These two camps – the PowerPoint generators and tools rarely allow you to write your own code the authoring tools. in order to extend their functionality. Advance, © Saffron Interactive 2007 1
  2. 2. 2 Advance, © Saffron Interactive 2007
  3. 3. The authoring tools add a layer of sophistication Getting our Subject Matter to the generators. They allow you to create bespoke components for your e-learning; give Experts to build content – you more control over the look and feel; and they are you serious? allow you to extend the functionality provided, by writing your own code. In order to ease the This is where the problems start and may be learning curve, many authoring tool vendors the fatal flaw in the rapid e-learning story. provide templates that Subject Matter Experts can use as a starting point. Some vendors even In a recent article for e.learning age provide generic content which can be tailored magazine, William Ward acknowledges by the organisation to meet its needs. that Subject Matter Experts are often too busy to be involved in training initiatives. All sizzle and no sausage? Both Ward and Elliot Masie, the US learning guru, argue that the pressure of working with an Instructional Designer to develop On the contrary. Many of the tools available content is too much to ask of an SME and can be used to build sophisticated e-learning provides them with little or no ownership courses. In my own organisation, we have built of the content. Ward correctly states that several courses using rapid e-learning tools SMEs tend to be the biggest ‘hold-up’ such as Lectora, Authorware and Articulate. factor in the development of any training The choice of these tools was driven by client intervention. Their answer to this problem? requirements and, being a bespoke developer, Give the SMEs the tools to build their own we obviously found that these tools have content! their limitations. However, are they a barrier to delivering high quality, bespoke content? If you haven’t already spotted it, the flaw Absolutely not. in Maise and Ward’s argument is that they themselves acknowledge that SMEs don’t Having seen what can be produced using rapid have the time to help build content. Training e-learning, it’s no wonder to us that in Larstan is often not their day job and burdening Business Reports’ study of Fortune 500 them with an additional layer of tools and companies, over 80 percent of respondents the inevitable work that is involved in said that rapid e-learning strategies would building content does not seem to be much make a significant contribution to their training of a solution at all. initiatives. Advance, © Saffron Interactive 2007 3
  4. 4. So SMEs can’t build content? Building e-learning is not solely reliant on knowledge of the subject matter. A mix of skills is required, including instructional design and I believe that what Maise, Ward and other graphical design. Technical expertise is also often proponents of rapid e-learning are driving at is required too, although is becoming less essential. that SMEs can develop their own content and can Proponents of rapid e-learning often dismiss the generate courses that are world class ... given the role of the Instructional Designer (ID), believing right circumstances. However, there are several that this role only serves to take knowledge from barriers to creating the right circumstances. the SME and drop it in the lap of the developer. This is far from the truth – the ID is one of the First, although many of the rapid e-learning tools most important roles in any learning project and are easy to use, if you don’t use a product for this is not a skill that is easily or quickly mastered. some time, it’s easy to forget how to make the Asking an SME to master all of these skills as well most of it. as learning a development tool – in addition to performing their day job – is a lot to ask! Second, most projects will have different SMEs – we work with clients’ companies where we An example of the last point is a Competition build several projects per year and rarely do we Law course that we developed recently. The SME come across the same SME. This means that was also the Legal Counsel for our client – time every project could potentially have to absorb was at a premium. The SME was more than the costs associated with learning how to use happy to provide us with content. The problem the development tools. In the authoring tool was that it came across as an essay. Initially, the category this overhead can be significant. SME would have been happy for this content to 4 Advance, © Saffron Interactive 2007
  5. 5. be transferred into Flash, made to look ‘pretty’ So it’s a crock? and then deployed. From a legal point of view, all the content was correct and from a lawyer’s point of view, reading through pages of legal The point about rapid e-learning is that it can text was not a problem. From a training point of work – and we have seen it work with great view a course written in this manner would have success. However, the story that you can buy been a disaster. Our IDs worked with the client to ten copies of an authoring tool, roll it out to ensure the integrity of the material while making your SMEs and they will deliver world class it digestible and engaging. This is something content is just that: a story. The many copies that the SME just would not have had the time of authoring tools that we have seen become to do. shelfware are a testament to this. Like any learning project, a rapid e-learning project needs a mix of skills – it’s not a job for one Finally, as we have already said, there is the person, however talented. If you already question of time. Far from adding pressure to have content in PowerPoint or can convince the SME, we find that SMEs prefer to provide your SMEs to produce this, if your training Instructional Designers with a ‘brain dump’ and professionals can repurpose the content, if then to work collaboratively (often face- to-face) your Graphic Designers can build the assets, to review and sign off content. This removes then you have a good chance of leveraging the burden of writing content from the SME the rapid e-learning model. Otherwise, you and important tasks such as use of language, risk adding to the already tarnished reputation adherence to the brand’s tone of voice, grammar of e-learning. and spelling are handled by the Instructional Designer. Advance, © Saffron Interactive 2007 5
  6. 6. The Emperor’s new clothes? Right about now you are probably asking “where’s the value?” If you have to employ all these people to build e-learning courses, wouldn’t it be better to outsource the project? Our experience shows that rapid e-learning adds value to organisations that have thought through the points mentioned above. Recurring themes in organisations that are successful are: They build small teams that handle the actual building of the content. As these teams work on many courses, they become experts in the use of the rapid e-learning tools. Because of the nature of the tools, these individuals can be training professionals rather than software developers. This allows them to provide instructional design support as well. They create strategic relationships with third party vendors who can provide services on an ad hoc basis. These vendors often have expertise in using the e-learning tools and have Instructional Designers and Graphic Designers at their disposal. They take a hybrid approach to content creation. Some content is created internally, other content is developed by third parties – a process for making these choices is usually also in place. So is rapid e-learning the Emperor’s new clothes? Only if you read what it says on the box and, against your better instincts, believe it all to be true! 6 Advance, © Saffron Interactive 2007
  7. 7. Hanif has a unique background in technology and learning with over 10 years’ experience in the IT training industry. He is one of the early proponents of a blended or integrated approach to learning and has been involved with designing and delivering learning initiatives for IBM, Deutsche Bank, Swiss Re, Credit Suisse, Universal Pictures, Whirlpool, Liverpool Victoria and Unisys. Prior to co-founding Saffron Interactive, Hanif held management positions at Deutsche Bank, Rite Aid, LBMS Inc and Stehle Associates where he held the post of CEO. During Hanif’s involvement, Stehle Associates became one of the few organisations in the UK to gain the Institute of IT Training’s Gold Standard and won three awards for training excellence. Hanif can be contacted at hanif@saffroninteractive.com Advance, © Saffron Interactive 2007 7
  8. 8. www.saffroninteractive.com ISSN 1478-7641 info@saffroninteractive.com © 2007 Saffron Interactive All rights reserved www.saffroninteractive.com