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Garry Platt


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E Based Learning ~ Interesting ASTD Survey ~ Telling It Like It Is!


There’s been a recent survey conducted by ASTD which if it wasn’t for Clive Shepherd’s Blog: It would have passed under my radar and I suspect many others too. It was an interesting study which approached more than 900 participants for their views and opinions on the current role and status of e based learning and development.

The analysis of responses chimed very closely with my own views in this field. And that experience is at wide variance with some ideas expressed by the fundamentalist jihadists of e based methodology. You’d imagine from some of the material published that just about every learner goes round with a Blackberry or iPhone surgically attached to their ear. Are currently developing their interpersonal skills via Facebook as we speak, generating their own content to circulate to their friends and colleagues via a pod cast and WAP site and are considering having a cybernetic implant to allow them to know when they receive an e mail where ever and when ever.

I have an interest in both camps; I deliver classroom based training (God forgive me) but also employ and integrate simple e based options where more appropriate and facilities and resources allow. But I constantly encounter barriers and resistance to e based options, some of these are simply driven by prejudice and ignorance and are groundless. There is also a lot of opposition which is based on perfectly legitimate issues which won’t go away. The people raising these issues are occasionally put into a box labelled Luddite or marginalised, which is not a great technique to influence and understand how to overcome their resistance.

So what are the real barriers to e based development becoming more and more integrated into the learning and development strategies of companies and organisations? Some of the results of the ASTD survey revealed that the predominant use of e learning is in assessment; checking or verifying learning and understanding, not imparting or delivering the learning. The second application was in the use of classroom based computers used in conjunction with instruction. This seems fairly pedestrian and not representative of the immersive or augmented virtual learning environments of which we hear. It is however real, and where done properly; productive and nearly always cheaper and more engaging than just a classroom methodology. What is rarely done according to this survey is to create opportunities for learners to participate in on-line forums, have virtual access to a coach or mentor, use immersive learning techniques or operate a virtual classroom or employ mobile devices. The golden age of e learning still beckons it seems while most companies still languish in the dark ages, one step up from the 90’s where it all began and then for some came to a grinding halt. The question is Why? And for some closed minded e based promoters who seem to think that the whole caboodle is a Win/Lose game competing with classroom based development the answers or at least the indicators from this survey sit like a rather obese elephant in the corner of the room.

According to the participants in this survey the primary barrier is expense, the money needed to set up e learning systems. Is this a genuine barrier? I think it depends on where your organisation is in terms of facilities and also your perception of how e based development should be undertaken. Within the last month I’ve read a proposal for the introduction of an e based strategy but they were going to use a major e based provider to set the systems up, a unique LMS and get third parties to tailor product. It would have run to hundreds of thousands of pounds over time. No wonder it got rejected. What is more practical, cheaper and much more appropriate for organisations to adopt in many cases is a model succinctly outlined here in Clive Shepherd’s blog and really relates to the creation of digital content: 

In other words a much more DIY approach, starting on a smaller scale and building from the bottom. Don’t try and transplant an entire system which will almost certainly get rejected, change in this instance might be better achieved through evolution than revolution. Of course, many of the big name e based providers are not going to like this, but it is I believe the way to go for many, many businesses.

The second problem is the claim that it is difficult to move learner’s towards this format. This links with a second barrier which is cited; customers prefer classroom based development. Ouch! People just don’t want it? I suspect the truth is that most learners who have been brought up on class room based development don’t want to move, they want what they know and are familiar with, but that doesn’t mean we should just give in and roll over. But nor do I think that a younger generation who are probably more tuned in to e based environments are keeling over in disgust at having to sit together in a group environment to learn. One of the groups I work with is apprentices for probably the biggest engineering organisation in the UK. Apprentices are in my view the ‘Eiger’ of the training world, if you can help this group learn and develop and enjoy the process and keep them engaged you’ve reached the top. This group receives its development via periods of classroom based development, coupled with work based development and significant e based learning. The e based learning is the most challenging for both learner and provider. Monitoring, support and feedback have to be racked up for this process to work, the different social dynamic, the absence of immediate and present peer pressure and distance based tutorial cause issues for the learners. They do not embrace it unreservedly; it takes time, support and occasionally a crack of the whip.

The third issue is that the technology framework they have access to would not support this approach. I can well understand this. E based access is not universal, certainly not always reliable and definitely not supportable in some environments. But once again, this is often an issue of perception rather than reality and these problems can be challenged and overcome, but sometimes they are most definitely a defeating factor. The other problem that prevents adoption of e based development according to the survey is the general reluctance of some people to contribute to social networks and forums. It’s true; some people don’t have Facebook accounts!!!!!! And never will!!!  I’m being facetious, but the point is social networking even if introduced and done with development and learning as the goal is not everyone’s cup of tea, neither for that matter is class room based learning, but the averages appear to be in the latter’s favour.

The conclusions I draw from this survey is that the virtual world of immersive learning environments, virtual tutoring and augmented realities are a pipe dream for many if not most employers, especially small to medium size enterprises. It’s not the future; some thing much more prosaic awaits us, something more pragmatic and driven by the grass roots. Rather than talking about advanced processes I would much rather that I was introduced to cheap, simple, working strategies that would allow me to implement and use e based methods which will replace, improve and make learning cheaper, faster or better on smaller but more immediate scale. I want it now, using the infra structures I have available to me. I want to run it, not a third party. And I don’t want to make a huge capital outlay to begin adopting and using e based methods. It can be done, it is done, it’s small scale, effective and it produces the results.

The problem I think with a lot of discussion and blogging on e based learning is that it’s mostly in ‘sales mode’. It’s as though the majority of ‘pioneers’ (for want of a better word) still believe that most people aren’t convinced that e learning has any contribution to make and can work. I don’t think that’s true, I think significant numbers of people want it, need it and would adopt it; the problem is they don’t know how. So instead of ‘look how good e based learning is’ we actually need more of ‘this is how you do it’. Not a third party who can take it over for you, not details of some technology, but nuts and bolts case studies and methodologies. A lot of discussion revolves around debates or experiences picked up at conferences or exhibitions which give an impression that this field is rarefied and separate from the workplace. Not many people seem to talk about ‘real life’ and tell us about their direct working experiences and projects. That’s more of what I want and then perhaps we’d begin to see real development in the e based market outside of academia and more out on the factory floor.

One Response

  1. Interesting, as ever


    I also read Clive’s blog and it is very interesting how some evangalists do appear to have only a win/lose attitude.  Clive, although evangelical I am sure, is refreshingly not in the same place and I had the pleasure of debating e-learning versus classroom learning with him and others last year for BCS

    I agree with your comments about support for learning events through networking tools but our experience at Matrix FortyTwo is that you can make these tools available but it is very difficult to get anyone to use them.  We have an ongoing project to deliver facilitation skills to a very large national audience and we use online validation of pre-work, online post-course assessment and supporting forums, blogs and networks but we regularly have to chase participants for their validation, are currently running at 80% assessment completion to attendance rate and although we have many members of our network very few contribute or participate in any way.

    We can usually, however, get to talk to people by phone or communicate by email (why is that so easy I wonder) so we know why they are not participating.  They are frightened to death of being lambasted for expressing their views or offering suggestions to their peers.  I know (and you do too) how that feels and I have grown a thick skin around my efforts to stimulate discussion when readers automatically assume that you are offering opinions but I can understand why it is difficult for some.

    And then there is the issue of social networking tools being made available in professional environments.  My first rant of 2010 was on the subject of social networking tools and you may see from this that I am not a fan of the tools being misused and/or oversold 

    Having said that, I am an active member of e-Learning network and we are currently developing a range of e-learning options for our clients but I believe in the pragmatic approach of using the right tool for the job and the blend of options for me is not just getting the technology blend right but also making sure that the appropriate (for the learner) face to face interaction is incorporated.  In the week that Learning Technologies is being held in London, it is an appropriate time to look at the balance again.

    Thanks Garry.

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Garry Platt

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