“Now it’s possible to produce more online learning materials than ever before”

Interview to Bob Little, Senior Partner – Bob Little Press & PR. He has been writing and commentating on technology based training, including e-learning, since 1990. His work has been published across four continents, in the USA, South America, Europe and Australia, making him unique as a commentator on the worldwide e-learning scene. His e-book, ‘Perspectives on Learning Technologies’ (e-book; ASIN: B00A9K1VVS) is available from The Endless Bookcase and from Amazon. It contains over 200 pages of observations on issues in learning technologies, principally for learning & development professionals.

How can you achieve higher levels of efficiency in the learning process?

This begs the question of higher levels of efficiency for whom: the learning materials producer or the learner?

There’s no doubt that the use of technology can help the learning materials producer become more productive. It’s now possible to produce more learning materials – especially those intended for delivery online – than ever before.

Efficiency is one (highly commendable) thing but effectiveness is quite another. For example, in the days of ‘e-learning 1.0’, many university lecturers transferred their lecture notes to the internet as lengthy Word documents. This meant that more people than ever before could read their notes and glean some of their wisdom. However, few potential learners learned much from this because the documents were boring. They contained no interactivity – to intrigue the learner and encourage her/him to engage with the content and learn more.

When it comes to the learning process, the effectiveness of the learning materials is more important than efficiency involved in producing them. This means that learning materials producers need to imbue their work with the ‘Wow!’ factor. Again, technology can help to make this process efficient but no amount of authoring tools, for example, can compensate for a lack of understanding of the principles and practice of instructional design.

How can technology improve learning processes in organizations?

The case for using online learning technologies to augment traditional, instructor-led learning has been well made – and demonstrated – over the last 20 years or so. The relatively recent advent of new delivery technologies – best characterised by the term ‘mobile learning’ – and the modern trend away from formal to informal learning, especially via performance support, is continuing to have an important and positive effect on organizations’ productivity levels and competitive advantage.

Technology – and especially new technological advances – will continue to make more information available than ever before to more people, as and when they want it, wherever they are.

That availability, however, will only be useful if people access the information appropriately. That means that people need to be equipped with the appropriate technology to receive this information; the knowledge of where to get that information, and – vitally – the motivation to access and then use the information.

Technology is an important enabler in the learning process. However, it’s only people who learn and, thereby, prove the effectiveness of both the delivery technology and the learning content.

What will be the main trends for e-learning in 2014?

I believe that the key trends in corporate learning technologies in 2104 will be:

– Mobile learning

– Gamification

– Just-in-time learning

– Social learning

– Tin-Can

There are interactivity issues associated with most if not all of these trends – and at least four of these trends are moving ‘learning’ away from learning to become performance support. So, I would argue, we’re witnessing the beginning of the end for e-learning as a leading edge corporate technology. It’s merging into the ‘traditional’ end of learning, alongside classroom-delivered learning. Many of the industry’s early pioneers and champions would be shocked and horrified at this news. Of course, such a move does nothing to lessen (if anything it increases) the need for interactivity between the users (who were once called learners) and the information providers (once called learning material designers and developers).

What are some of the changes you would like to see in the e-learning industry?

I’d like to see:

  • A realisation and acceptance that e-learning is part of the technology sector rather than the education sector. The technology sector has a consistently higher profile than education – and, with more interest being shown in it, it attracts more people (and also attracts more talented people to work in it). Learning is now just one of the many things that technology can provide for us as and when we want, where we want and so on. The education sector has had its chance to embrace e-learning and make it its own but it hasn’t done so over the last 25 years and more. It’s been too conservative and wedded to instructor-led training. Now it’s time to let e-learning take its place among technology and let the technologists provide learning materials in the same way they provide entertainment, sport and so on, on demand.
  • E-learning providers stopping talking to ‘HR’ and related people in organisations because these people have consistently failed to champion technology delivered learning (possibly because they have so little real power and influence in their organisations). E-learning providers should be talking to technology providers and doing deals with them to provide e-learning (or, more probably, performance support materials) to users.

What are your thoughts on personalized learning? What are the implications of it, if any, for content creators?

Developing truly personalised learning involves highly complex programming. First, the program has to determine the learning preferences of each learner/ user. These – as Honey and Mumford say – are likely to change over time (even over the time taken to complete one particular piece of e-learning). So the program must continually monitor the learner’s responses, in addition to providing the learning materials (in order to ensure that it is presenting these learning materials in the most appropriate way). Taking account of a variety of user learning preferences means that the same learning content must be available to be delivered in a variety of ways. This, alone, makes producing a truly personalised e-learning program extremely complex and cumbersome.

Then, the program must also take into account the various delivery devices that the user might select. This may not just be a question of personal (user) preference but also of circumstance – for example where the learner is at any one time; what delivery devices are available to him/her at any one time; what bandwidth is available and so on.

In addition, there must be some provision for interactivity (to help the learner cement and apply the learning) and feedback (again, this must be personal and adaptive/ interactive in some way).

Some of the world’s most complex learning content management systems’ producers have spent a lot of time and money working on developing (and, importantly, being able to monitor) personalised learning. It hasn’t been achieved yet – but ‘never say never’, as the saying goes!

The implication for content creators is, on the most basic of levels, don’t worry about personalised learning: it’s not happened yet and is very unlikely to happen in your lifetime. If it does, make sure you’re an early adapter rather than a pioneer because the pioneers won’t make any money at it (because of the large amounts of money they’ll have had to invest in the first place). For this reason, truly personalised learning is unlikely to happen – because no one wants to lose large quantities of money developing it. Besides, there’s no guarantee that there will ever be a market for it – not least because people tend to prefer quick (relatively cheap) learning fixes (some performance support) rather than a comprehensive (and expensive) piece of ‘catch all’ learning.



10 Responses to ““Now it’s possible to produce more online learning materials than ever before””

  1. Pini Goren Says:
    January 24th, 2014 at 1:11 pm

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    or ask for hints/
    I think it is a very good use tool for learning by your own

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