I’m an optimist by nature. I might worry, but deep inside I expect things to work out. If not immediately, then a little later. But if anything were to change my nature, it might be the sorry progress of e-learning. It seems we are increasingly tolerant of making poor use of the learner’s time and potential.
I’ve seen e-learning deliver invaluable personal benefits to individuals. I’ve seen students, once failing even under their caring mentors, suddenly make great progress when given a chance to work with adaptive e-learning. I’ve seen violent gangs reform dramatically as they found unrecognized intellectual strengths with the help of e-learning. And I’ve seen sales teams sell with radically greater success when given the benefit of well-designed e-learning.
But I’m feeling grumpy because so many of my examples, while representative of work done in the early days of e-learning, are exceptions today. These and many other effective models could be replicated quite easily for different learner populations and different skills. But instead, we see thinly veiled pageturning presentations, pretending to be instructionally interactive. Learners aren’t challenged. They don’t have the opportunity of seeing the consequences of errors vs. good decisions. They don’t practice. They just flip through to the end and go learn some other way.
Introspective pessimists even question whether instructional design has relevance today. Looking at the preponderance of course ware delivered today, one has to conclude there’s little informed design going on. Why is this? Is it just so difficult to deliver effective instruction that we are willing to waste every learner’s time in order to bypass a serious design effort? Are designers just not exposed to effective designs and, therefore, only emulating what they see?
It took me years to discover that the majority of traditionally schooled instructional designers never considered the notion that boring instruction is bad, ineffective instruction. The characteristics of boring vs. engaging weren’t discussed; it wasn’t a “professional” issue. No, in the shadow of skills hierarchies (where the interesting content comes way back at the end of a course) and of formally structured behavioral objectives (that couldn’t interest most students less), getting a design right had little to do with actually connecting with learners.
Working enthusiastically, earnestly, and exhaustively, a band of authors—Julie Dirksen, Clark Quinn, Will Thalheimer, and I—have put forth what we believe is required to use instructional technology as professionals; what is required to earn the right to absorb learner time. We know e-learning can be a valuable experience, but it isn’t valuable because technology is present; it’s valuable only if technology is harnessed to do beneficial things. So we’ve enumerated those things we feel are essential.
But setting forth principles does not a revolution start. So we’ve gone further. We’ve turned the Manifesto into a pledge. By putting forth this Manifesto, we pledge to do specific things whenever and wherever we possibly can. We realize there are constraints, and we realize some of us work for clients who may not permit some design components we know are important. But as professionals, we will do our best to produce truly beneficial learning experiences regardless of imposed constraints.
We invite you to join us in your work and at: www.seriouselearningmanifesto.org.
Michael Allen is CEO of Allen Interactions (www.alleninteractions.com), which designs custom interactive e-learning applications and provides consulting and training services. He is the author of several books, including “Michael Allen’s Guide to e-Learning.”