High-Quality Rapid eLearning?

bigquestionThe Learning Circuits big question this month is “What are the trade-offs between quality learning programs and rapid e-learning and how do you decide?”

I guess the issue I have with the term “rapid e-learning” is that it’s sort of a misnomer.  There is little evidence that participants in programs regarded as “rapid e-learning” learn a set of material any faster than participants in more traditional programs. We don’t know if they learn it as well, or better in these programs, either. We just know that  it takes less time for us ID folks to develop the program, and that sometimes we can zip people through these programs more quickly.

Now, if you previously were taking 40 hours of learner time and say, 60 hours of trainer time to present information which can effectively be offered in 16 hours, and you’ve found a way to demonstrate that learner mastery is every bit as good, or better, than with your previous program, more power to you!  Similarly, if it used to take you months to develop a new program, and you can develop a similarly effective program in a coupla weeks now, that’s great too!

But let’s get real. A quality learning program is one which results in measurable changes in learner behavior which in turn produce measurable improvements in organizational profitability.

Being able to whip out an Articulate page-turner in a week is a significant improvement in instructional designer productivity over the laborious weeks previously required to work with web designers.  But if the hour spent by the learner looking at that lesson doesn’t change the learner’s behavior, it’s sort of wasted time all around.

We know that moving learners beyond awareness through skillfulness to proficiency demands more than the most elegant presentation of concepts can achieve. Learners need time and space to reflect on the material, to apply it in practice situations, and to get feedback on their first efforts in changing behavior.

That’s why at Q2, we subscribe to the blended learning model. Though content does matter, and it needs to be presented in a logical, relevant way, we see content as just the beginning.  The meat of a good course is in giving the learners chances to apply what they are learning, and give feedback on those efforts. Our platform permits the rapid development of a learning program incorporating content of any form which seems applicable (If you are offering more in the course than just a presentation of content, something as simple as a little .pdf file “cheat-sheet” on the new procedure can be enough to get people started!), synchronous or asynchronous discussions of that material, plus workspace for learners to post assignments for practice and receive feedback from coaches/instructors.

When you have the right people doing the coaching…the folks who know in their bones why the desired change is being forwarded, learners hear from the horse’s mouth what they need to do and why. When learners get the opportunity to talk about the impact of the change on their work with colleagues,  when they practice implementing the change, and they are coached effectively by colleagues on how to do it better, they develop a personal relationship with the material which is just not achievable by watching  the most advanced one-way broadcast or even participating in a machine simulation.

So yeah, round these parts, we do think it’s possible to achieve truly rapid e-learning. To us, it’s an issue of placing the emphasis on a different syllable. By shifting some of the current laser focus on content development to the development of exercises which give learners the chance to practice new skills under the supervision of people who know their stuff,  We’ve seen that it’s possible to raise quality of the learning experience, beyond awareness building and on to the promised land of proficiency. And we know, from experience, that developing such programs can be accomplished with impressive rapidity.