A View into the Future of eLearning
The evolution of eLearning is an interesting one. Twenty-some years ago, computer-based training (CBT) was the next big thing in job skills advancement. It was generally well received by both employers and the workforce as a way to supplement classroom or on the job training. But soon, the limitations of CBT became apparent.
Learners generally sat in front of a small computer screen and sometimes watched an embedded video of a task being performed. They were then prompted to answer a multiple choice question correctly and the program advanced to the next section. There was very little about CBT-based learning that taught a worker how to perform a specific job function. Let’s call this one job familiarity preparation – it didn’t take the place of instructor-led training.
The next iteration of eLearning was slightly more interesting and interactive. Advances in computer graphics and increases in processing and storage capacity gave us the ability to virtually represent a task being performed. Learners now had a greater ability to participate in simulations and to direct the path of the lesson. But as with CBTs, the limitations of computer simulation were soon reached.
With nearly all eLearning of the past two decades, the instructor-led course was never in jeopardy of being replaced. eLearning was merely a supplement to the inevitable classroom instruction that would do the real job of teaching.
But now all of this is changing.
Along with advances in technology, we are beginning to have a better understanding of how best to teach certain concepts. Informal training and virtual communities of practice have evolved. We have a renewed focus on developing capabilities rather than simply providing course material. Along with these changes, and the resulting improvements in measurable job performance, has come a push to review instructor-led courses for potential conversion to eLearning.
Easier Said Than Done?
The temptation for organizations to save money by eliminating classroom time in favor of self-directed eLearning is a great one – but care must be taken in this transition. As someone once said, converting a bad ILT course into an eLearning format results in a bad eLearning course. For this reason, a complete review of the organization’s learning program – including its Learning Management System (LMS) is a required course of action.
Advances in the features and functionality of LMS platforms in the past few years have opened up a new realm of possibility in redesigning and converting instructor-led courses. In fact, in many cases the role of instructor can be assumed by a community of experts. The interface to the eLearning experience is now a personalized portal, where the learner can interact with the learning environment – including peers, subject matter experts, experienced veterans in his field and even the course designer.
The virtual classroom has finally become a reality.
This concept of a Social Learning Management System allows courseware designers for the first time, the ability to blend the best of classroom instruction with support from experts anywhere within an organization. And the learner has control over how he consumes the material. In addition, new learning development technologies are making it possible for even small departments to develop eLearning courses and deliver them via this new mechanism. In this way, learning is being brought back into a form that is relevant to the worker and the task at hand.
The result of these changes that we are beginning to see is a glimpse into the future of training. With these new technologies, we see a focus on developing capabilities within our workforce learners. We also see an expansion of the definition of training and eLearning. Finally, we are beginning to approach the point at which our learners are no longer restricted by the confines of a physical classroom.