New Year’s Resolution #3- Drop a Few Pounds of eLearning

A new year and new pledge to get healthier. I’ve tried it all before, no red meat, only red meat, sprint a mile, walk the stairs, hop one leg. It doesn’t work and I know it. There’s no silver bullet and no matter how hard I try, Dwayne “the Rock” Johnson won’t be there when I look in the mirror. Only through a sustained lifestyle change including diet, exercise and stress reduction will I finally get my doctor off my back!

It got me thinking that in the seven or so years I’ve been working in educational technology, I’ve witnessed only a fraction of the gimmicks, fads, and buzz words that my poor lifelong colleagues have endured. From MOOC’s to Microlearning, to Gamification, it’s a well-known secret that training is a business and there’s always someone pitching the new shiny object that will get results fast.

The problem is that few organizations, and at least as many consultants, have any idea if these new technologies actually help people learn. In the absence of rare independent research, I often find myself more skeptical than excited by yet another new technology promising to revolutionize learning. And at the end of the day are learners really better equipped? Are handwritten instructions on the copier really worse than video instructions on an app that just won’t download?

Hmmm. What if I were to ask my painfully truthful doctor?

Doc: Well Steve, tests are back. Afraid your employees are still reporting low engagement and promotion frustrations.

Me: Come on doc, I totally addressed that in our new onboarding training. It’s now all video based. They can build their own avatar and finish the ten hours of content whenever they want. They even get a badge.

Doc: Have you been following up with them?

Me: Sure, they can use their fifteen-digit employee ID number to log on to the LMS and complete a survey.

Doc: How are the results?

Me: Are you kidding? This revamp was part of my performance goals, of course the results are awesome.

A few awkward questions later and I’d finally succumb. Despite good-natured attempts, my learning lifestyle was still motivated by expediency and populated with shiny objects. Developing a culture of sustained learning is hard. Evaluating how and when to use technology options can be confounding. But if we want sustained healthy results, we need to think of learning beyond quick fixes.

In “The Continuous Learning Environment: Surviving Learning Solution,” Gary Wise offers up a framework by which learning professionals evaluate the totality of setting in which people learn. Learning interventions are offered depending on where learners are on their learning continuum:

1.     Learning more of something

2.     Trying to remember something

3.     Adjusting performance/behavior because something has changed

4.     Figuring out what to do when something goes wrong or fails

Wise suggests the use of blended media that serve different learning functions depending on three phases: preparation phase (readiness), deployment (delivery) and reinforcement (retention).


·Preparation: PowerPoint or eLearning modules used for pre-work and introduction of scenarios

·Deployment: instructor-led virtual classroom technology to support discussion and feedback

·Reinforcement: job-aids, microlearning, infographics to support learners on the job

Notice that the moment of need on the learning trajectory influences what type of learning technology or media is used. You wouldn’t begin to get in shape by training for a marathon, no more than you should offer week long workshops course for someone who needs a brief refresher on a systems training.

The bottom line is that instead of worrying about keeping up to date with the best new gizmo, I think I’ll spend more time worrying about where my learners are in terms of their learning lifestyle. Is it sustainable? Are they eating healthy? What keeps them motivated? At the very least, it should make my pesky doctor happy and at best foster positive sustained changes in learner behavior.