We all know that e-learning is growing in popularity, primarily because it's efficient. It helps employers by cutting travel costs and making it possible for large numbers of employees to be trained very quickly. It helps employees because it allows them to obtain learning when and where it suits them. But none of this means that learners 'like' e-learning; for many it's just a quicker way to complete a mundane chore.
So is it possible for e-learning to be enjoyable? Is enjoyable e-learning an oxymoron? Let's begin by agreeing our terms, starting with 'e-learning'. As this diagram shows, e-learning has three main aspects, each with a wide variety of forms. Unfortunately, that's not how many employers see it ...
E-learning is all too often seen as no more than simple self-paced instruction; just like the computer-based training we've had for the past 30 years, only now delivered online through a learning management system rather than offline on a CD.
The second term we need to define is 'enjoyment' - essentially something that gives us pleasure. This chap - who's name I won't attempt to pronounce - defined these eight components of enjoyment. Imagine if our e-learning was like this.
Pleasure can come through physical exertion. Exercise releases endorphins in the brain, which in turn cause a sort of 'natural high'. You wouldn't normally associate exercise with computers, of course, but that's until the Wii came along. This guy's happy because he hasn't missed a single volley!
… throughsocialising with friends …
Perhaps this is more your thing. Yes, of course, we can experience enjoyment using computers; so much so that the problem is in getting yourself to stop. We love a challenge and computer games play on this fact. Increasingly they also allow you to socialise online at the same time.
And so to our third term, oxmoron, which comes from the Greek 'oxus' - pointedly - and 'morus' - which means foolish. Pointedly foolish, like this chap. An oxymoron is, of course, an inherent contradiction in terms, like e-learning and enjoyment. It's pointedly foolish to think otherwise. Or is it? Let's see.
I've identified five factors that make it difficult for us to produce enjoyable e-learning. The first of these is the policy constraints which many organisations impose on e-learning designers. You know, no jokes, no anecdotes, no informalities, no choice, no shortcuts - no fun basically.
Then there are the shortcomings in the designs themselves. I'll let you dwell on some of these horrors for a few moments.
Problems also arise in the way in which self-study e-learning is blended with other approaches. Again, I'll leave you to reflect on some of the issues this can cause ...
And, of course, online delivery isn't for everyone. There's a hard core that's still lacking in basic computer skills. And not everyone has access to the network connectivity that's necessary if you're going to obtain the full benefit from learning online.
Lastly, we shouldn't forget that some learning is inherently uncomfortable, particularly when it causes us to challenge deep-seated models that govern our behaviour; or when we need to learn complex new skills. The enjoyable bit comes later, through mastery.
So are e-learning and enjoyment compatible? Well, as we’ve seen, there are plenty of obstacles getting in the way. Certainly we have to do an awful lot better before our e-learning happy sheets will match those of the classroom. I've come up with five ideas that I believe could help.
We're not going to make much progress until we challenge some of the corporate conventions about e-learning. That means acting like professionals - more like architects than builders. We're the experts on adult learning and if we're allowed to do our job properly we can really make things happen.
We all love stories; they form the basis for most of our conversations. We remember stories much better than we do abstractions, particularly when we can relate them to our own experiences. Storytelling should permeate the examples we provide and the challenges we set.
And talking of challenges, there's a lot we can learn from video games in terms of the way we draw learners in and hold their attention. Try to limit the information you provide and substitute meaningful activities in their place - ones that are stretching but achievable with effort.
Learners like self-study because they're in control, but they don't like it to the exclusion of the other necessary ingredients in successful learning. They want to be able to interact with tutors and subject experts, and share experiences with their peers. Is that too much to ask?
Lastly, you might need to let go of some of your own inhibitions. Don't be another corporate drone, design your e-learning as if you were chatting with a friend. Tell your jokes and your stories, be a little provocative. In short, don't design anything that you wouldn't want to use yourself.
So, is enjoyable e-learning an oxymoron? Of course not, but it is unusual, and will continue to be so unless we make the effort to buck the trend. E-learning doesn't have to be enjoyable to be effective, but the world would certainly be a happier place if it was.
ENJOYABLE E-LEARNING Is it an oxymoron? Clive Shepherd
E-LEARNING e-Tutorials Games and sims Videos Podcasts Presentations Software demos Email Forums Blogs Wikis Social networking Virtual classroom sessions Webinars Online meetings
ENJOYMENT Eight Components of Enjoyment Confronting tasks that wehave a chance of completing Concentration Clear goals Immediate feedback A deep, effortless involvement A sense of control over one’s actions A reduced concern for self Hours pass by in minutes Mihaly Csiksczentmihalyi
1 NO JOKES NO ANECDOTES NO INFORMALITIES NO PERSONALITY NO CHOICE NO SHORTCUTS NO JOKES NO ANECDOTES NO INFORMALITIES NO PERSONALITY NO CHOICE NO SHORTCUTS NO JOKES NO ANECDOTES NO INFORMALITIES NO PERSONALITY NO CHOICE NO SHORTCUTS NO JOKES NO ANECDOTES NO INFORMALITIES NO PERSONALITY NO CHOICE NO SHORTCUTS NO JOKES NO ANECDOTES NO INFORMALITIES NO PERSONALITY NO CHOICE NO SHORTCUTS NO JOKES NO ANECDOTES NO INFORMALITIES NO PERSONALITY NO CHOICE NO SHORTCUTS NO JOKES NO ANECDOTES NO INFORMALITIES NO PERSONALITY NO CHOICE NO SHORTCUTS POLICY CONSTRAINTS
2 DESIGN FAULTS too much content irrelevant content minimal interaction unchallenging interaction inflexible structuring inadequate examples irrelevant examples insufficient practice unrealistic practice
3 PROBLEMS IN THE BLEND no-one to answer questions no-one to share with no-one to compare against no-one to argue with no-one to provide feedback no-one to follow-up with
Eight Components of Enjoyment Confronting tasks that we have a chance of completing Concentration Clear goals Immediate feedback A deep, effortless involvement A sense of control over one’s actions A reduced concern for self Hours pass by in minutes Mihaly Csiksczentmihalyi