I am eating my words. I am selling myself down the river. I am completely contradicting what I wrote in my blog post circa 2006, titled “Give me Back My Fun Learning!” in which I thundered against rapidly developed, plain vanilla e-learning and lamented for fun-filled, engaging e-learning.
Call it fickle mindedness or call it evolution, but ladies and gentlemen, I have seen light. I have realized that e-learning in the corporate sense is not about the “greater artistic question” but about the “greater business question”.
In a sense, the distinction is similar to mainstream blockbusters and art-house cinema. True, e-learning as it is “ought to be” needs to be fun/funny, out-of-the-box, and challenging; it needs to surprise; and it needs to push the envelope of the medium. But e-learning that works with the masses ought to be plain functional.
This wisdom comes from working with a leading multinational manufacturing company in the past year.
The e-learning we were engaged to develop for them was part of a company-wide strategic realignment journey. E-learning was to be an enabler and a change agent that would help its close to 100,000 employees across the globe change the way they have been working and adopt a new way.
Because of the business imperative, e-learning development was time-bound and mission-critical. So naturally, we chose the blockbuster route. If the word “formula” has already suggested itself to you, give yourself a cigar!
Our formula was governed by some “Thou Shalt” rules, as one of our SME puts it. It included the following:
- Thou shalt keep it simple: You will not make the learners jump through the hoops of frustrating interactions, bewildering exploratory activities, and tricky questions. Make the learning to-the-point and get to it quickly.
- Thou shalt keep it short: Remember that the learners have tons of other stuff to learn/unlearn, in addition to their daily job-related activities. Don’t stretch them.
- Thou shalt keep it consistent: Far too much is changing in the learners’ lives even without playing a game every time they open an e-learning program. Use a template that is easy to understand and rely on.
- Thou shalt keep it literal: Metaphors, puns, flourishes of style, and “clever” or “cute” animations/images only irritate the learners. They are also difficult to translate.
- Thou shalt keep it in context: Let the learners know why they are doing it before launching them into games, case studies, or “try it” activities. If you are telling them a fictitious story, let them know upfront.
- Thou shalt not be a perfectionist: While guarding against blatant errors and inaccuracies, don’t treat e-learning as a magnum opus. In the real world, continuous improvement makes far more sense. E-learning development and implementation is an iterative cycle in which every new version is better than the one before. Get it out so that this cycle can start.
Has it worked? Well, early results seem to indicate that it has. Close to 10,000 learners have taken around 40 hours of learning and they’ve scored us (on an average) 5 on a scale of 0 – 6. Moreover, all e-learning modules are out on time for senior management to implement downstream strategic activities.
And what about me? Much as I dream to be the “independent” e-learning maker, I am currently enjoying my role as the wily studio executive!
(Priya is Deputy Practice Head – Instructional Design, Products & Skills Training Practice at TIS.)