Yes, you do have to change

Of late, I’ve seen a disturbing trend.  Not only are the purveyors of existing solutions preaching caution and steadiness, but it even seems like some of the  ’names’ of the field are talking in ways that make it easy to think that the industry is largely doing ok.  And I do not understand this, because it’s demonstrably wrong.  The elearning industry, and the broader learning industry, is severely underperforming the potential (and I’m being diplomatic).

We know what leads to effective learning outcomes.  And we’ve known it for decades (just because MOOCs are new doesn’t mean their pedagogies are): clear models, annotated examples, and most importantly deep and meaningful practice focused on significant skill shifts (let alone addressing the emotional side of the equation).  Learners need to perform, repeatedly, with guidance, over more and more complex contexts until they achieve the level of performance they need.  However, that’s no where near what we’re seeing.

What we see are knowledge dump/test tarted up with trivial interactions.  People will pass a test, but they will not have achieved the ability to affect any meaningful business outcomes.  If it’s knowledge performers need, create a job aid, not a ‘spray and pray’.  And facilitate people in self-helping.  As things get more complex and moving faster, there’s no way everything can be kept up with by new course development, even if it were a useful approach, and mostly it’s not.

We’re even measuring the wrong things.  Cost per seat hour is secondary (at best).  That’s ‘fine-tuning’, not the core issue.  What’s primary is business impact.  Are you measurably improving key performance indicators as outcomes?

And that’s assuming courses are all the learning unit should be doing, but increasingly we recognize that that’s only a small proportion of what makes important business outcomes, and increasingly we’re recognizing that the role needs to move from instructional designer to performance consultant.  More emphasis can and should be on providing performance resources and facilitating useful interactions rather than creating courses.  Think performance support first, and communities of practice, only resorting to courses as a last result.

Tools that make turning Powerpoint presentations into page-turning content aren’t going to fix this, nor are tools that provide prettified drill-and-kill, nor ones that let you host and track courses.  There are places for those, but they’re not the bulk of the opportunity, and shouldn’t be the dominant solutions we see. There’s so much more: deeply engaging scenarios and simulation-driven interactions on the formal side, powerful job aid tools for performance support (particularly mobile), coaching and mentoring as a better solution than courses in many (most) cases, performer-focused portals of tools, underlying powerful content management suites, and rich social environments to support performers making each other smarter and more effective.

I’m not quite sure why the easy tools dominate the expo halls, except perhaps because anyone can build them.  More worrisome is that it can let designers off the hook in terms of thinking deeper.  We need to focus first on rich outcomes, and put the tools secondary.

While the industry congratulates itself on how they make use of the latest technology, the lack of impact is leading a drive to irrelevancy.  Learners tolerate the courses, at best.  Operations groups and others are beginning to focus on the performance solutions available.  Executives are beginning to hear a message that the old approach is a waste of resources.

Hiding your head in the sand isn’t going to cut it. The industry is going to have to change.  And that means you will have to change.  But you’re a professional in learning, right?  So lead the way.  The best way to change is to take that first step.


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