A short history of elearning

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Clive Shepherd and Laura Overton take a look back over learning technology's recent history and argue that trainers need to get with the times.

Download Clive and Laura's booklet: 'What every L&D professional needs to know about e-learning.'


Change and opportunity

Surprising as it may seem, most educational and training methods are relatively timeless. Most of the familiar options, whether that's providing instruction, leading discussions, delivering case studies, running role plays and simulations, providing coaching, apprenticeships and so on, have been practised for hundreds, if not thousands of years. True, we do make different choices from the available methods, as we learn more about learning, but the options stay pretty consistent. Learning media options, on the other hand, have been growing exponentially.

Put yourself in the shoes of a trainer, just thirty years ago. You'd have felt lucky to have such a plethora of media choices available to you, including blackboards, flip charts, film and video, slides, books and posters. You'd have been familiar with all these media, because in those days, no trainer would have regarded any of these to be particularly specialised - they were the basic tools of the job. But with the arrival of PCs, mobile devices and in particular the Internet, the media options available have increased so dramatically that it has been hard for the trainer to keep up.

"In 2009, when we face greater challenges at work than we have in a generation, elearning is a very big deal indeed."

As a result, many of the tasks associated with the use of technology for learning have been left to specialists, and many trainers have become disengaged, perhaps even alienated from technology.

So what’s the big deal?

Technology now provides so many opportunities for learning and development that it is no longer viable for trainers to keep their distance, leaving new media to the geeks and the ‘digital natives’.

The pace of change is so fast that those who keep their distance stand to be marginalised on a permanent basis. The new learning technologies provide opportunities for every trainer to play an active role, whether that's as an online tutor, facilitator or moderator, or as a content designer or developer. All that’s needed is a willingness to get engaged, adapt and apply.

"Many of the tasks associated with the use of technology for learning have been left to specialists - many trainers have become disengaged even alienated from technology."

Without the involvement of those who really understand adult learning and how it applies to their workplace, e-learning could easily be applied inappropriately, as it has been on occasions in the past. With every trainer engaged, new media options can be properly integrated with existing approaches in the form of blended solutions that deliver results effectively and efficiently.

In some ways elearning is no big deal, it’s just a new channel for learning materials to be made available to learners, and for learners to communicate with peers and with trainers. But it would be a mistake to play down the consequences of this new channel, because it’s capable of delivering learning interventions to more people, more quickly, more cheaply and more flexibly than any technology we've encountered before.

In 2009, when we face greater challenges at work than we have in a generation, elearning is a very big deal indeed.

Download Clive and Laura's booklet: 'What every L&D professional needs to know about e-learning.'

Clive Shepherd and Laura Overton are the authors of What every L&D professional need to know about e-learning. Laura is also managing director of Towards Maturity CIC, an independent not-for-profit organisation that provides free research and case studies to help organisations improve the impact of learning technologies in the workplace. Clive is an independent elearning consultant and current chair of the elearning network. Visit his blog at: clive-shepherd.blogspot.com. For more information on the elearning network, visit: www.elearningnetwork.org.

About Clive Shepherd

About Clive Shepherd
Clive Shepherd is a consultant specialising in the application of technology to learning and communications at work. With more than twenty five years of experience in this field, Clive is acknowledged as a thought leader in the UK in all aspects of technology-assisted Iearning and blended learning. Clive developed his interest in interactive media at American Express in the early eighties, where, at the age of 27, he was appointed Director, Training and Creative Services. He was co-founder of both VPS Interactive and later Epic Group, which has for many years been one of Europe’s major developers of bespoke multimedia and e-learning. At Epic, Clive was responsible for many award-winning productions and headed up a division publishing games and edutainment CD-ROMs. Epic became a public listed company in 1995. Since 1997, Clive has worked on an independent basis with a wide range of public and private sector organisations. For the Institute of IT Training (IITT), Clive developed an accreditation programme for e-Iearning providers, quality standards for e-Iearning materials and a competency framework for e-learning professionals. This framework provided the basis for the e-Learning Professional programmes offered by the Training Foundation, for which Clive is e-Learning Director. As well as consulting and training, Clive participates in design and development work for e-learning and blended solutions. Working with David Kori, Clive developed Ten Ways to Avoid Death by PowerPoint, which was judged as Generic Solution of the Year for 2004. His blended design for Plan International won a National Training Award in 2008. Clive has an MA in Management Learning from Lancaster University, is a Fellow of the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development, the British Institute of Learning and Development and the IITT, and is a Member of the Chartered Management Institute. In 2003 he received the Colin Corder Award for services to IT training, and in 2004 the award for Outstanding Contribution to the Training Industry at the World of Learning conference. Clive’s writing on e-learning can be found in his books, e-books and more than 100 published articles, as well as his blog, Clive on Learning. He is also a regular speaker at UK and international conferences. Clive’s current specialist interests are in blended and informal learning, while he continues to further his ambition to engage the wider learning and development community with all forms of technology-assisted learning. In December 2007 Clive was elected chair of the UK eLearning Network. In May 2009, Clive joined with Barry Sampson and Phil Green to establish a new company, Onlignment, which supports organisations in using live, online tools to support learning and communications.


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