Monday, July 27, 2009

Think Artichoke eLearning, Understand Learner’s Instincts

Last July 23, 2009, I had an opportunity to be a panel member of the online event “The Future of the Business of Learning” sponsored by Corporate Learning Trends & Innovation. It was an insightful event featuring thought leaders Tony Karrer , Josh Bersin , Jay Cross, and Harold Jarche. The event was about challenges and opportunities in the learning industry. Please visit Harold’s blog for the session discussions. There were many great ideas on trends and how to find a business model that will sustain the business of learning.

Although the discussions were intriguing, I thought there was not much conversation on:

How can we we produce more quality programs at lower cost and faster speed and simplify our processes and software?

Why is this question important?

Eight out of every ten eLearning designers and developers I have conversations with complain about the complexity of elearning design and software. “It costs a lot of time and money to produce really high quality programs,” many assert.

This problem is like a serpent with several heads: instructional design, software, delivery, tracking, and the emergence of informal learning options. There is no consensus on how to address the issues, and we can’t expect a solution from a single source. One thing is for sure: as the demand for more in-depth learning designs (rich-media, scenarios, simulation and games) and informal learning methods increases (social networks), the pressure to bring down costs and increase speed of production and delivery increases. There must be a change in our eLearning approach.

So how do we begin? And where do we start?

I propose we look into simplifying eLearning.

As I listened to the discussions at the online conference, my thoughts boiled down to:

The state of learning as a business is not about comparing apples, bananas and oranges. It is about an artichoke.

Bananas, apples and oranges are easy to peel.

Artichokes require more work to get to the heart.

A change in the way we approach eLearning is like peeling the artichoke in search for the heart. We have to shed off layers to discover the core and foundations of what we do. Unlike, peeling an apple, banana or orange where the skins are thinner, an artichoke’s skin is layered and highly protected. We have to boil it first before we can begin to soften the skins. At the conference, the questions were more on the peelings of the artichoke, not the heart.

In simplifying eLearning we need to ask hard questions that help us cut to the heart of an artichoke. And for starters, let us ask:

What are the instincts of new learners?

I am convinced that we have NOT looked hard enough to understand the DNA of the new learner. Are we limiting ourselves by looking at the heart of the new learner from the old thick layers (like hardened skins) of instructional design, competencies, authoring tools, LMSs, ROI, corporate culture and network software? And if we have looked hard enough and discovered the instincts of the new learner, we have to transform our understandings into new norms, practices and tools that will help us help the new learner, further giving us clues and enabling us to develop and produce learning designs responsive to the demands of speed and costs.

On a practical level, we need to ask persistently when we design and develop eLearning:

How do learners acquire the skills to do a good job?

To genuinely get a fresh answer, ask the questions without using our usual assumptions, theories and biases about learners. Peel off the artichoke to get to the heart of the question.

Getting an answer to this simple question could impact how we design and develop eLearning. We can change our approaches and focus on creating new solutions to bring down costs, improve delivery and meet the needs.

The conference made me realize that eLearning today has become so complex. To simplify eLearning, I think, we need to revisit our understanding on the new learner’s instincts.

Ray Jimenez, PhD

"Helping Learners Learn Their Way" "Helping Learners Apply Learning"

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