“Technology is just a tool. In terms of getting the kids working together and motivating them, the teacher is most important.” – Bill Gates
With that in mind, it doesn’t seem fair to blame eLearning’s shortcomings on the technology. After all, our computers and cell phones are great at performing so many different tasks. But maybe it’s too soon to praise technology as the be-all and end-all of human learning. What areas need more work? How can instructors and designers do better?
Imagine walking into your first day of work or school. You’re excited to meet new people and learn new things. But then IT happens… you meet your instructor, teacher and single point of truth – a computer screen. This scenario is all too real for many working professionals and students alike. It usually doesn’t get better from here. After booting up, signing up and logging in, you’re ready for the thrill ride of your life: a click-through learning module guided by an all too familiar artificial voice.
This style of eLearning is a killer of innovation, personal interaction and thought-provoking dialogue. Stripping these elements from a learning environment creates something far from an ideal classroom. Click-through learning is like a PowerPoint presentation for one. Yes, it’s as sad as it sounds – and we’ve all experienced it.
Objectivity vs. Subjectivity
If the eLearning program goes a step beyond the solo PowerPoint presentation, it might incorporate some multiple-choice questions. While testing knowledge is an essential part of any learning method, selecting A, B, C or D on a screen doesn’t allow much room for interpretation, context or conversation. These types of questions make scoring easy but don’t test how a learner is synthesizing the new information. While there’s a place for this type of knowledge check (safety, compliance, etc.), the goals for organizational training aren’t always as simple as capturing correct answers. A learner’s ability to understand and utilize new information is the ultimate benchmark of any training program.
Where’s the fun?!
The gamification of learning has never been hotter. So why does eLearning have to be such a bore? It doesn’t. Some companies are doing everything they can to jazz up eLearning. But fun and engaging learning shouldn’t come at the cost of practicality and substance. Looking at how some organizations are incorporating virtual reality into their training programs, a conflicting thought arises. Why would you spend exorbitant amounts of time and resources to develop a virtual simulation of a real-life activity that can be conducted in person for pennies on the dollar? It’s kind like buying a computer and a virtual reality headset to play solitaire.
Striking the delicate balance between fun, effective and practical is hard to get right. It leaves a lot of eLearning solutions looking like square pegs forced into round holes.
What works? Just Do It.
While the idea of using technology to deliver solutions for every imaginable problem is enticing, it’s not realistic. As it turns out, one of the best methods for learning nearly any task is simple – do it! Learning by doing, otherwise known as experiential learning, provides several opportunities for reflection and creativity. A mistake made on a multiple-choice question provides little value. Whereas a mistake made in a safe group setting becomes a teachable moment for all participants. The hands-on nature of doing allows participants the chance to strategize with group members, try multiple solutions and develop a deeper understanding of their own strengths and weaknesses.
Confucius said all of this and more, in just three sentences.
“I hear and I forget.
I see and I remember.
I do and I understand.”