Thursday, October 22, 2009

Is Formal E-Learning Dead or Alive?

I just attended the BYOL conference at the University of Utah in SLC. At the conference, there was a panel discussion that talked about Rapid E-Learning Development. I asked the question if eLearning is Dead or Not? I referred to a Webinar done by John Bersin entitled Metrics for the Modern CLO put on by Chief Learning Officer Magazine. This webinar wasn't so much about metrics and more about the state of learning today and where it is headed in the future. He talked a lot about informal learning and how learning is moving to a more collaborative and dynamic structure. In one part of his presentation he talked about the evolution of learning and how formal e-learning and LMS's will be replaced informal learning and learning portals.

Mark Lassoff recently wrote a blog posting about the current state of eLearning.
I agree with everything that Mark said in this post. I consider myself an eLearning developer (I have a masters in Instructional Technology) and have been frustrated as well with the typical formal elearning that consists of a slide of text and maybe some basic interactivity and a multiple choice quiz at the end. If a classroom training session were like a elearning course, it would consist of everyone in the class in soundproof booths where they could only see the powerpoint on the screen, the students wouldn't be able to ask questions, and the instructor would only know if anyone understood the course until after the course was done. That is just sad... Learning comes from interaction, asking questions, applying knowledge and receiving feedback among other things.

However, I think there is hope for formal e-Learning. The first few generations of movies looked a lot like stage plays because of the mindset and the limitations of the technology. I believe it wasn't until movies started using more than one camera and realized the possibilities of editing and the many possibilities of storytelling that we see in todays movies. I believe today's limitations with elearning includes the use of LMSs that limit functionality and how much data you can store using SCORM. (There are hundreds of LMS vendors, that tells me that no one has found a right answer yet.) Because of these limitations to the standard asynchronous LMS distributed elearning course, information really is only communicated one way, from the screen to the learner. There is really no opportunity for customized feedback for the learner from the instructor, or for the student to know what other students think about a particular topic or concept. What if you created a course using Flash or Flex or some other tool that still presented a course in a logical step by step format, but allowed the learner to comment on the content on the same slide that it is presented and ask questions about the content and have that information saved and made available to everyone who takes the course. Notifications could be sent out and then people could return to the course, view what other people had asked and collaborate. This could potentially be better than a classroom training in some ways because more knowledge could be shared and more participants could have their questions answered.

One promising concept is that of they have built a structure using Flex that does an excellent job at giving feedback for each step of the learning process, and for real time collaboration. The drawback with their approach is that it works best when people are taking the class at the same time, and when you want to script out every step in a learning process. This seems hard to do for most training.

What do you think? Is there hope for formal eLearning or are we just going to search the internet in the future when we want to learn anything?