I’ve penned this column for the past two years. In order to give way to a fresh voice and to enable me to devote more time to my online activities, this column will be my last. So looking back on two years’ worth of perspectives and opinions, these things I know to be true…
We must focus on business results. For 10 years, I’ve heard presenters at conferences extol listeners not to fall in love with the technology, to take the focus off of the “e” and to put it on the “learning.” Yet, only last week a client explained that, despite poor reviews from learners, a certain technology would remain in place because so much money had been invested. Similarly, too many trainers fall in love with content libraries and, once acquired, discover that learners don’t share the passion. At this point in the e-learning adoption curve, I think it is foolish to focus on either the “e” or the “learning.” If learning happens and the organization is none the better, who cares? We need to focus on the business and on the “performance” of the learners.
We must monitor innovations in technology. Innovations in digital technology make a dramatic impact on our instructional design, media choices and delivery options. Moore’s Law and still larger gains in storage technology continue to make computers accessible to more and more people. The two biggest innovations occurring right now are the spread of broadband into homes and the rollout of high-speed wireless access. Breaking the broadband barrier finally enables CD-ROM-quality rich-media to be delivered to remote workers and the consumer market. In the future, the adoption of high-speed wireless technology will enable us to deliver rich-media learning to laptops, palmtops and mobile phones.
Our emphasis should be on supporting workflow. Miniaturization, broadband and wireless access have finally enabled us to break the tethers to our desks. Rather than investing big dollars on static catalogs of “just-in-case” tutorials, our focus should be on the development of rapid e-learning mini-modules that are intentionally perishable. These timely learning objects can include information, tutorials and tools—all designed to create an agile workforce.
We must measure effectiveness. Kirkpatrick’s four levels are easy, a fifth “ROI” level does little harm, and cost savings are a good way to get a CFO to green-light a pilot project. But our industry needs solid metrics around things like e-learning’s impact on employee time-to-readiness, employee retention, sales and other performance benchmarks. We also need to invest in hard science. Educational psychologists routinely conduct control-group studies, but typically only rely on small student populations. Similar 50/50 studies conducted among real-world employees may yield surprising results.
The e-learning industry is under-hyped! E-learning is a thriving industry that is still in its infancy. The Web browser itself was only invented in the past 10 years or so. Forget about learning management system (LMS) companies and the over-hyped IPOs of the late ’90s. If you’re looking for signs of industry success, look no further than the hundreds of private e-learning content vendors and tool suppliers or the wildly successful online universities. Think of the thousands of webcasts and ’Net meetings that happen daily. Let’s stretch the definition of e-learning and realize that SouthBeachDiet.com makes millions each month teaching more than 300,000 consumers how to shop, cook and eat to achieve an optimal weight. Stretch the definition further still, and we have a billion-dollar success story in Google—the ultimate just-in-time information company.
Your role is critical. Whether you realize it or not, each day you actualize the potential of integrated circuits, fiber optics and other digital technologies by marrying them with the modern science of learning. Though most of us work in western corporations, we have cleared the path for accessible learning in remote and impoverished parts of the world. Your work is helping to transform everyone into the knowledge workers first described by Peter Drucker in 1959.
So here’s to you, the indisputable rock stars of the Information Age. I hope to meet you on tour one day.
Kevin Kruse facilitates www.e-LearningGuru.com. For more information, e-mail Kevin at firstname.lastname@example.org.Filed under: Measurement, Technology