Are We Living In An eLearning Revolution?

Viva la eLearning Revolution!

In pursuit of my master’s degree in instructional design, I was exposed to a lot of academic materials that explained the history of eLearning, the power of eLearning, the uses of eLearning, the future of eLearning. A shocking amount of these materials were from 2005 or earlier. As I read article after article talking about the potential of eLearning, it occurred to me: eLearning has changed so much in the past 10 years, the articles from 2005 might as well be from 1905! eLearning is being applied in ways that those academics could not have even imagined 10 years ago.

Thinking back to the Industrial Revolution, it lasted about 80 years and completely changed the way people lived, worked, and purchased goods. During the early years of the revolution, peoples’ lives changed more in a decade than they had in previous centuries. While implying that an eLearning Revolution would have a similar impact on society is a little silly, I want you to think about something. Imagine it was 2005 and your car won’t start. What would you do? Probably call AAA, or maybe a handy friend who can come look at the car and help diagnose the problem and get it going again. You were probably pretty unlikely to pop open the hood and try to figure out what was going on yourself. Fast forward to 2015. Before you call AAA and spend a bunch of money fixing your car, you are more likely to pull out your computer (or phone or tablet) and Google, “Why won’t my car start?” Maybe it is making a noise, so you go onto YouTube and try to find a video of a car making a similar noise so you can have a rough diagnosis. You are less likely to be fleeced by a dishonest mechanic because you walk into his shop with an idea of what is wrong and you can research his findings before you let him get to work on your car. We are the most informed generation in history. This idea can be applied to going to the doctor, the dentist, having an electrician, or plumber, or handyman come work on your home…

“Now, Beth, really, this is not all due to eLearning.” This is what you are thinking, I know. Well, dear reader, what if I tell you that it is? We can take the traditional definition of eLearning and look at how our kids go to school, how we attend mandatory corporate training, how we attend college. More than 60% of college students will attend at least one class on-line, more than 50% of cooperate training included an eLearning element, my daughter started using Moodle in the third grade! eLearning has been integrated in academia and corporate learning, now I argue that the revolution is spreading into every facet of our lives.

I wrote an article last week about guerilla eLearning. This is how revolutions happen, people! The upper crust (in this case, academia and corporate America) has something that everyone else wants, but they are not sharing it. The people are taking it back by force! In the case of eLearning, content is being generated by laymen who have no idea about ADDIE, or AGILE, or MOOCs, or any other eLearning and design acronym or principle. What they know is that this is the most informed generation in history, and people will come and ingest their content if they put it out there. As eLearning professionals, we have a choice to make. We can stay in the realm where we feel safe and protected, where we are insulated from the masses by our academic institutions and corporate training departments. Or, we can get out there and fight for sound eLearning design techniques and principles to be applied; making all eLearning events no matter how formal or informal clear, concise, consistent, retainable, repeatable, and obtainable.

Now, before I go off and buy myself a beret and declare myself the Che Guevara of the eLearning Revolution, lets take stock of where we are. Content is being generated constantly. Gone are the days of shabby CBTs that bore you more than they teach you. Institutions are placing eLearning into its own category, no longer trying to mimic the brick-and-mortar classroom experiences on-line because they know that it doesn’t usually translate well. No more taped 45-minute lectures accompanied by a workbook, no more rudimentary “learning games” that would make a 5 year-old laugh. But these lessons learned are not being translated to the masses.

Unconventional designers like me are carving out our niche in this industry by working with clients who have never considered what they do eLearning, and have never contemplated working with an eLearning designer. They are authors who still post 45-minute lectures, and when I explain to them that the average adult is more likely to watch four 10-minute videos than one 40-minute video, it’s like a light bulb lights up for them. Not only is it difficult for the intended audience to tune in for 45-uninterrupted-minutes, it is overwhelming for the author to record a 45-minute video. But when we break it down to short videos, it is do-able. I have often told my clients that developing eLearning content is like eating an elephant. How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time! * Their content can be posted one bite at a time, one micro-video at a time.

*NOTE: I in now way condone the eating of elephants in any scenario. Don’t eat elephants.

There are other content generators who are posting fantastic eLearning events without even realizing it. Every retailer who posts a how-to video for their product, every blogger who posts a product demo, every book club that posts in a discussion forum… These are eLearning events, they are happening on-line and they will keep happening on-line. eLearning design principles and best-practices can be applied to these events and make them more fruitful, more retainable, more enjoyable, and more profitable for the content generator. I would love to see the basic philosophies of eLearning to be such common knowledge that the teen YouTuber who posts mascara application tutorials applies them without a second thought. Content generators will stop creating content that only appeals to people who learn the way they do, and they will start creating content to appeals to everyone. Or, content generators will stop wasting their time posting unwatchable and unusable tutorials and videos, only to be left wondering what all the eLearning hubbub is about, since it didn’t work for them. So, fellow eLearning professionals, don your beret and answer the call to action!

Viva la eLearning Revolution!