Training's sister publication, Online Learning Magazine, recently tried to conduct a survey attempting to paint an unbiased picture of vendors providing online training products and services. The survey project was cancelled due to the large number of unprofessional responses received from companies indicating they would never supply the requested information. To me, this represents a broad indictment of the online training industry.
Too many training product vendors are selling smoke, mirrors and magic pills. Somewhere in the marketing material accompanying almost every new development tool is the message: "You can have your first e-learning program running in 30 minutes." This message implies that the tool develops the training, bells, whistles and interactivity, and the people who create quality training content are no longer necessary.
Vendors of training services who sell only expertise with tools and have no ability to create quality content also do a disservice to the online training industry. They make it difficult for competent service vendors who focus on developing quality training content to compete.
There is no shortcut for creating effective online training. Developing effective online training requires excellent instructional design, professional writing that communicates with conceptual clarity, and effective user-interface design. These are not functions that software can provide. These are functions that only highly trained, experienced people can perform. Development tools and online delivery mechanisms, although useful, do not eliminate the need for people who know how to create high-quality training content.
Throughout the industry, we're hearing e-learning doesn't work. Unfortunately, what is really occurring is that people are finding out that bad training doesn't work. The term "e-learning," especially, is beginning to carry a negative connotation.
Misuse of the Internet and exaggerated claims of vendors are ruining the training industry, both for customers and also for reputable vendors of quality tools and services.
For example, one company spent millions of dollars on software, consulting services and a large in-house staff to do nothing but "manage" all of the company's training activities. The result? Budget dollars were diverted from the training development department, which now has no funds to develop quality training content. What is this insanely expensive learning management system managing? And for what purpose?
Another company laments that no one finishes any of the e-learning courses it provides. The company asks, "How can we force our learners to finish the courses they start?" It's not difficult to figure out that these e-learning courses could not be presenting quality content. If a training course presents useful content and helps learners do their jobs more effectively, word-of-mouth will guarantee that people will take the course and complete it, regardless of the technology used to present it. People will take the course on their own time if they have to, even if the course consists only of a paper document they have to read. On the other hand, nothing can force learners to complete an online course containing poorly written, irrelevant content, no matter how interactive its developers have managed to make it.
I hope Training magazine can accelerate the shakeout process in the online training industry and help us return to a focus on the quality of training content. I also hope it will do whatever it can to help customers differentiate between the honest, capable vendors and the unscrupulous ones who are out to make a fast buck.
Until sanity returns to the training industry, my firm and those of many of my associates are finding new markets other than training in which we can sell our content development services in an atmosphere of trust and honesty. Perhaps we can come back to training in the future when our services once again have perceived value.
Joe Leben is president of Leben, Inc., a firm helping to pioneer the discipline of content engineering. firstname.lastname@example.org