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Maybe it is rocket science!

As I’ve been working with the Foundation over the past 6 months I’ve had the occasion to review a wide variety of elearning, more specifically in the vocational and education space, but my experience mirrors that from the corporate space: most of it isn’t very good.  I realize that’s a harsh pronouncement, but I fear that it’s all too true; most of the elearning I see will have very little impact.  And I’m becoming ever more convinced that what I’ve quipped in the past is true:

Quality design is hard to distinguish from well-produced but under-designed content.

And here’s the thing: I’m beginning to think that this is not just a problem with the vendors, tools, etc., but that it’s more fundamental.  Let me elaborate.

There’s a continual problem of bad elearning, and yet I hear people lauding certain examples, awards are granted, tools are touted, and processes promoted.  Yet what I see really isn’t that good. Sure, there are exceptions, but that’s the problem, they’re exceptions!  And while I (and others, including the instigators of the Serious eLearning Manifesto) try to raise the bar, it seems to be an uphill fight.

Good learning design is rigorous. There’re some significant effort just getting the right objectives, e.g. finding the right SME, working with them and not taking what they say verbatim, etc.  Then working to establish the right model and communicating it, making meaningful practice, using media correctly.  At the same time, successfully fending off the forces of fable (learning styles, generations, etc).

So, when it comes to the standard tradeoff  – fast, cheap, or good, pick two – we’re ignoring ‘good’.  And I think a fundamental problem is  that everyone ‘knows’ what learning is, and they’re not being astute consumers.  If it looks good, presents content, has some interaction, and some assessment, it’s learning, right?  NOT!  But stakeholders don’t know, we don’t worry enough about quality in our metrics (quantity per time is not a quality metric), and we don’t invest enough in learning.

I’m reminded of a thesis that says medicos reengineered their status in society consciously.  They went from being thought of ‘quacks’ and ‘sawbones’ to an almost reverential status today by a process of making the process of becoming a doctor quite rigorous.  I’m tempted to suggest that we need to do the same thing.

Good learning design is complex.  People don’t have predictable properties as does concrete.  Understanding the necessary distinctions to do the right things is complex.  Executing the processes to successfully design, refine, and deliver a learning experience that leads to an outcome is a complicated engineering endeavor.  Maybe we do have to treat it like rocket science.

Creating learning should be considered a highly valuable outcome: you are helping people achieve their goals.  But if you really aren’t, you’re perpetrating malpractice!  I’m getting stroppy, I realize, but it’s only because I care and I’m concerned.  We have got to raise our game, and I’m seriously concerned with the perception of our work, our own knowledge, and our associated processes.

If you agree, (and if you don’t, please do let me know in the comments), here’s my very serious question because I’m running out of ideas: how do we get awareness of the nuances of good learning design out there?


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