Rapid E-Learning. Just Another Urban Myth?

Andrew Jackson
Co-Founder
Pacific Blue Solutions
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Go round any learning technology-focused trade show or exhibition and you  won't be able to move for them. Who am I talking about? The sharp-suited sales people hanging around on those flashy, expensive stands, of course. 

These are the people promoting their latest rapid e-learning application. You know, the one that's going to help you build e-learning courses in no time at all, with no required programming. All your e-learning problems will be solved. All your Christmases will come at once.

When money's tight and everyone is finding it harder to make a buck, the promise of rapid e-learning is a deeply  attractive one. Especially if you are the stressed L&D professional constantly trying to achieve more for less.

But what is rapid e-learning exactly? Is it an urban myth? And if it does exist, does it actually improve learning and performance? 

Put a bunch of e-learning practitioners together in a room and I'm not convinced they'd be able to come up with a definition of rapid e-learning they could all agree with. But let's live dangerously and see what we can come up with here.

For some people rapid e-learning is all about the software. In a software-driven definition,  it's all about tools that allow just about anyone to create and publish e-learning courses with little or no programming knowledge. It's about the change from the early days of e-learning when you needed significant programming skills to achieve anything of worth.

For others, rapid e-learning is defined by the ease of the production process. In this view of rapid e-learning, just one or two people can wear many hats. Gone are the days of huge development teams and endless production cycles.

Whatever your definition, rapid e-learning needs an authoring tool of some description. And broadly speaking,  development tools fall into two broad categories: free form and form-based.

Free form: the name gives it away, really. Free form tools start with a blank screen which allows the e-learning author to create a structure s/he wants. Inevitably, this still requires some programming.

Form-based: in a form-based authoring tool, the software does pretty much everything. All you have to do is add the content. The negative here, of course, is the forms. They only give you what they are designed to. If you want anything outside of this, you are back to needing programming skills.

But whatever tool you use (whether you consider it 'rapid' or not), there's no getting away from one central question: Just because you can create a course rapidly, should you? And one central problem: not everyone given an authoring tool (and the training to operate it) is going to develop a great course. In fact many will (and have) built truly awful ones.

The answer to the 'should you' question has to be answered by individual organisations. Only people in that organisation can best work out if e-learning is really the most suitable solution for them.

In answer to the second point, I'd say this. When the technology is new and exciting, all the focus is on the technology. This has been the problem with e-learning for too long now. 

Rapid e-learning was meant to democratise development. In many cases, all it did was empower lots of people to create online sideshows with little or no value or effectiveness. 

But now we seem to be moving into an era when technology is evolving again. It probably won't be that long before almost no programming skills are required to create sophisticated e-learning

For me, this moment can't come fast enough.  This could be the moment when we can finally shift from what I call 'point and click' thinking to instructional design thinking. Finally we can shift the focus to where it's needed to be all along:  not about how to programme, but about how to build better courses and more effective learning experiences.

Read more of Andrew's posts on the Pacific Blue Learning Academy blog.

About Andrew Jackson

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13th Mar 2013 16:31

Hi, Interesting blog entry! I attended ASTD in Denver last year and agree - the vendor show was dazzling and full of hawkers selling "rapid e-learning solutions". I took a whole bunch of classes on e-learning development, got certified, and did my best to select a development tool that would give me what i needed to get started, and have room to grow (in the ability to develop complex interactions) down the road. I also selected an LMS that fit my needs.

Fast forward 10 months later.

I held off buying anything, Instead, I have been reading and writing. I have read (alot) about story development, scenario building, testing and feedback, instructional design. Then after another 6 months I began writing. In the past two months I have written a whole bunch of prototypes, using MS word and a simple storyboard template.(blank paper) and editing with feedback from a work-group (subject matter experts). 

What i have discovered is that RAPID works best. No big committees. No big meetings. Get to the heart of the matter and find out what the learning goal is, and then deliberate for a few days on the best way to convey the story about why reaching the goal is important, and how to do it effectively, what the barriers are, etc.

Then boom, boom. boom. Write like mad. Especially the feedback. Then step-back for one day, then boom, boom, boom (meet with the work group), standardize feedback where possible (to stay on message), and simplify ques and language while it's all fresh in mind, and finalize the prototype.

After that's all done (i have another 20 modules on the go), I'll buy and start with the tool! 

As I dig deeper, the development gets faster!

Keep on blogging! I've got to get back to writing!

Cheers from Canada!

Jordan Glick

E-learning content developer for the long term care sector

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