This month, the Learning Circuits Blog threw up another toughie.
What are the trade offs between quality learning programs and rapid e-learning and how do you decide?
We tossed the question to two of our colleagues. An instructional designer brings the (surprise, surprise!) learner into the picture while a business manager puts his nose to the grindstone (and the client to the forefront) as the two of them put mouse to mouse pad.
Dr. Shwetaleena Bidyadhar, Senior Instructional Designer
I would like to approach the ‘Big Question’ of this month from a Need Saliency perspective.
Most motivation theories stress that intrinsic factors (such as job satisfaction) are higher order motivators and should be valued more than extrinsic factors (like money). Is this necessarily true? In reality, an individual’s needs may be intrinsic, extrinsic, or some combination of both.
The Need Saliency Theory (Kanungo, 1982b) evolved as an alternative approach to such theories. It states that our involvement in a job depends on its potential to satisfy our salient needs. We should first identify an individual’s/group’s priorities and then look for ways to satisfy these, rather than make generalizations about what would motivate them. Is there a lesson in this for us? Should we label a design strategy as being of ‘better quality’ in isolation of learner profile and training requirements? Based on this theory, can we draw a parallel to the issue of rapid vs. quality e-learning?
When designing an e-learning course, quality learning products may seem like the ideal thing to recommend. We know that this approach inevitably means more design and development time. It also leads to higher costs. Does this approach always translate into enhanced learning retention and a high return on investment? Is the degree of correlation between these variables significant? Is something that is interesting for us to design equally interesting for a learner to go through?
The underlying assumption that rapid e-learning does not lead to quality learning may be questioned. Rapid e-learning has its uses and applications. It may suit certain types of learners and situational requirements better. It also brings higher benefits to clients by reducing development costs and ‘time to learning.’
The design decision should be arrived at after a detailed analysis and evaluation of all information available. We should not approach this stage with the preconceived notion that rapid learning means ‘less learning’.
Borrowing terminology from research methodology, if ‘design decision’ is an independent variable’ and ‘effective transfer of this learning’ is the dependent variable, some of the moderating variables could be:
- User psychographics
- Type of content
- Desired level of learning
- Immediacy of need for learning
- Delivery medium or blend suitable
A rule of thumb could be to use rapid e-learning where the important learning material is structured, and simple. It can be ideal for easy-to-memorize skills or for highly motivated and busy learners. Enhanced treatment including use of games, simulations, and multimedia may work best for content that requires a higher degree of cognitive processing and analytical skills. In the real world, our proposed solutions mostly use an optimum combination of both. This increases effort to some extent but may lead to better transfer of training.
I would like to conclude by reiterating the importance of the first and last stages of the life cycle of most e-learning projects – taking into account the learner profile of the present project and analyzing learner feedback from similar projects.
Sometimes it’s as simple as paying attention to the basics!
Ajay Menon, Senior Business Manager
The most critical decision in any business (e-learning or otherwise) is, “What can be compromised – Quality or Schedule?” Try as much as we may, the answer is never “either quality or schedule.” Wish it was that easy but you can never choose one over the other.
But if push comes to shove my opinion is that it is always quality that gets the pride of place. Yes, there are instances where the time-to-market factor influences the client’s decision (and hence our response) but even then the focus is on delivering quality within the stipulated timelines. This could probably be achieved by involving additional resources or by working late hours.
Getting back to the trade-offs between quality and rapid production – no client is ever going to be happy with a product of inferior quality even if it is delivered before or by the agreed dates. It would also help to remember that the process of production is not complete at the time of delivery. There are a lot of activities (including reviews) that the client performs before the final signoff. This means that even if we compromise deadlines but ensure quality, the client will not have to spend additional time for reviews and corresponding rework thus not impacting the final delivery.
In one of the projects we worked on (for a University in the U.S.) we had to repeatedly go back to the client with requests for extension of the deadlines for a variety of reasons (SME issues, our inability to comprehend the subject, etc.). The client obviously wasn’t too pleased but agreed to the relaxation of the deadlines provided we ensure quality.
This just goes to prove that clients are always open to re-scheduling if they are informed in time and given valid reasons. It is almost impossible to find clients who will compromise quality just for the sake of ticking out a date on their calendar. If that is an established fact, then the whole debate of Quality v/s Schedule becomes irrelevant.
We need to understand that quality is not just a client expectation; it is also a reflection of an organization’s delivery promise. So when we debate about a tradeoff between quality and schedule, it is not just the client reaction but also your organization’s policy that is under scrutiny.