I’m with Marc Rosenberg: I too hate eLearning. Actually, what I hate is the volume of bad eLearning out there, despite the efforts of so many well-intentioned eLearning designers and developers. How did our industry get to a place where most of our customers, aka learners, view eLearning as an unpleasant experience to be endured, not enjoyed? It is clear that we are missing the mark on quality eLearning.
Why are we missing the mark?
To be sure, there’s no shortage of innovation in tools or techniques. On the instructional design side we're embracing microlearning, branching scenarios, gamification, explainer videos, and interactive PDFs. On the development side we have a range of off-the-shelf courseware and tools, as well as custom-coded HTML5, to build with.
So what gives? Why are so many eLearning courses, videos, and job aids missing the mark on quality eLearning? In my view, it happens when two simple ingredients are missing in the eLearning design and development process: management oversight and quality controls. When it comes to new training projects, too many L&D executives have a “make it so” attitude with their teams (which is great), without providing quality standards or project parameters for doing so (which is not).
Management oversight and quality controls can help tame the Wild West that eLearning has become. L&D executives: Please consider implementing or strengthening these four essential eLearning quality controls:
- Provide eLearning principles and parameters to your L&D design and development teams. As I’ve mentioned before, all eLearning programs need guidelines to ensure that they meet standards of quality. These guidelines should answer a few basic questions. What tone and personality should your eLearning convey to employees? What’s the maximum duration of your compliance courses? What are the accessibility, responsivity, and technical requirements of your eLearning courses? What are your language and branding standards? These and many other parameters must be spelled out and shared with any internal or external eLearning developers.
If in doubt about where to start, refer to these two essential reminders of the values and characteristics of effective eLearning: the Serious eLearning Manifesto and Will Thalheimer’s Decisive Dozen.
- Set limits on the authority of content experts, and define the number of revision cycles created by eLearning designers and developers. While we need both of these roles to create accurate, engaging eLearning, both can lead to unintended results if not kept in check with reasonable project schedules. Content experts, when asked to share what they know about a topic, invariably attempt to share everything they’ve ever learned about it. Their job is to verify content, not generate it. Don’t let them hijack the process with content bloat or unending edits.
Similarly, eLearning designers are prone to adding all sorts of bells and whistles that may not be appropriate for the topic or target audience, or may be unnecessarily labor-intensive, resulting in longer project schedules. Accurate and innovative training can’t be at the expense of employees who are kept waiting for information they need to do or improve in their jobs.
- Avoid one-stop-shop eLearning developers. No one person, whether an L&D employee or vendor, can or should be responsible for creating training for an entire organization. While there are courseware applications that tout their usability as a cost-saving advantage, do you really want one person lecturing your employees? Think about it: an eLearning course designed, written, and developed by a single person is like an Encyclopedia Britannica entry. However, today when people require just-in-time information, they choose user-generated, peer-reviewed Wikipedia-like entries. Shouldn’t eLearning follow suit?
- Incorporate customer experience design principles and processes into your L&D projects. The eLearning industry is one of the few I can think of that does not obsessively track and keep pace with customers’ preferences, habits, and outcomes. Ensure that your training teams are consulting with the target audience for each new project. Do not fall prey to trainingitis, a term I use to describe a mindset that overtakes many training designers and developers and convinces them that they know what’s best for the dozens, hundreds, or thousands of employees they are sharing information with.
In order for eLearning to remain relevant and effective, we need to involve our customers in the creative process: if nothing else, think of their involvement as a risk mitigation strategy. Wouldn’t you rather know sooner rather than later if an eLearning course or program isn’t hitting the mark?
As Marc Rosenberg points out, it’s challenging (but not impossible) to create good eLearning. Instructional designers and developers are doing their best to create what they think is best for learners, but they need L&D senior managers to set the direction, tone, and quality standards for their work. Without eLearning quality controls, we will continue to hear from employees who want training but hate eLearning. We will be missing the mark on quality eLearning.