e-Learning Challenges: value proposition issues
e-Learning Challenges. The E-learning market bases much of its perception of customer value on scale. Primarily the scale of a learning experience to a large number of learners at little incremental cost per new user acquisition. eLearning combines that with the scale of delivering access to expertise, either homogenized and aggregated or direct from sources, such as authors or academics.
Scale does not solve the fundamental issues of competency, let alone mastery. eLearning assessments cannot easily determine the impact of learning integration. Automated assessments determine recognition of circumstances, and memorization of facts, or familiarity of process steps, but they do little to prove competency during application.
Organizations should include the following factors as they develop their e-learning value propositions.
- Motivating and engaging the learner.
- Getting the learner’s attention and maintaining it, and giving them a reason to return.
- Establishing the priorities for learning–what is important?– and how much is it worth to get people to mastery of an idea, concept, or process?
- Balancing compliance with engagement. All too often e-learning gets a bad reputation from learning that the organization, or the legal community, forces employees and partners to learn. Compliance learning may be boring. That causes issues with perceptions of quality across e-learning. Organizations need to make the stuff people must learn as engaging as the content they want them to learn.
- Assessing the effectiveness of e-learning. Learners, more importantly, that managers or their organizations, need to realize value from their investment in learning–and have peers, managers, and others recognize it too. While some people may find motivation in learning as an activity, most want to understand how that time reflects back on them and their work.
- Developing contingency plans to frame e-learning for adaptability and agility.
Alignment with work
The alignment of learning with work underlies the value proposition. But many organizations don’t explicitly call out the situational aspects of their e-learning investments.
All e-learning programs need to include the following:
- Embed learning into the appropriate work moment.
- Integrate training and continuous learning with the overall work experience. Learning requires all three levers from the Management by Design methodology (process, practice, and technology) to install and maintain a culture of learning.
- Make it clear that people should seek refinement and expansion of their knowledge regardless of how much they already consider themselves competent or expert.
- Recognize the challenges of isolation or distraction in remote work and accommodate those realities into learning delivery and assessment.
e-Learning Challenges: Content development and knowledge management
Any strategic solution to eLearning still depends on tactical knowledge management work, most notably the creation and tagging of content. Content creation requires a complex interplay between expertise, design, and pedagogy. And sometimes those creating the content do not possess equal levels of expertise across those disciplines.
Knowledge management plays a crucial role in content development. E-learning systems need to not only meet immediate needs but also evolve to reflect changes in underlying knowledge, in delivery, and pedagogy, as well as ways of curating content for obsolescence and use.
The following bullets outline important areas that require recognition, attention, and investment in order to deliver the most effective e-learning content.
- Get to the essential knowledge required to help a learner familiarize, adopt, or master a topic.
- Decide on the right amount of content to reach a learning goal.
- Assist subject matter experts with no prior instructional design knowledge effectively contribute to the e-learning experience.
- Design e-learning courses to not just accommodate, but to engage, different generations of learners.
- Don’t shy away from innovative design.
- Transform the mundane into engaging learning experiences.
- Master storytelling. Understand how to teach complex content. Find
- Don’t get stuck with approaches that lead to template fatigue.
- Deliver interaction.
- Recognize, include, and exploit feedback loops that recognize the evolution of user interfaces (in the learning experience and in software being taught), emergent concepts, obsolete content, and content that isn’t being used. This also goes for tapping into the latest pedagogy.
- Avoid mobile-first learning in favor of a responsive design that allows the learner to engage where and when they are most receptive.
- Assert editorial control and content consistency.
- Perform a needs analysis to understand the market for content before developing it.
- Recognize the time required for subject matter experts to participate in content development, including editorial cycles. If the work is in the job description, they can’t say it isn’t their work. E-learning contributions should be evaluated like any other key performance indicator.
- Decide at the beginning of course development what done looks like. And what good look like.
e-Learning Challenges: Technology issues
E-Learning, perhaps more than other technologies, or perhaps more pointedly the content stored in it, faces its destiny regularly. In database technologies or collaboration, data exists in a flexible structure that allows for interpretation. Data regularly ages out. Orders ship. Customers sign contracts. New designs replace old designs—vehicle locations update. Deposits get posted. For the most part, data is simple and abstract. It has purpose and meaning within at least one application and usually does not stray far from its original, intended purpose.
E-learning content is different. Instructors craft E-learning content. They design it with human purpose, save its metadata that fits the category of generally descriptive data. The most difficult issue related to technology and e-learning comes down to the encoding of knowledge, be it in more traditional documents like word processing tests, presentations, or other content, like video or animation. Those content types typically evolve more quickly than infrastructure technology like databases. Although database processes technology has greatly expanded in capability, the storage or data in tables remains relatively consistent when compared to knowledge encoding structures.
Rapidly changing knowledge encoding shackles content to legacy systems. Those systems resist upgrades because the perceived value of access to content often appears more important than the migration of that content to platforms that would require re-encoding the knowledge. But this type of content also suffers from issues of authorship and the evolution of knowledge. Original authors may be hard to find, so updating may be more an issue of recreation than editing. And the evolution of knowledge means that the underlying facts and any theories that govern their interpretation often shift after the content’s creation. While this is very common with e-learning aimed at mastering applications, it also applies to physics, where the fundamental understanding of cosmology and quantum physics faces a lack of consensus and an ongoing exploration of theoretical options.
I own a copy of Clement Woods, The Outline of Man’s Knowledge (1927). The book does not list Pluto as a planet, not because of its demotion to a minor planet in 2006, but because Pluto remained undiscovered at the time. The book also speculates about the detection of upwards of 1,000,000,000 stars from Earth. Astronomers now estimate that the universe contains 1022 to 1024 stars, numbers not even speculated in this book. Similarly, the book only sketches human evolution, which of late, has seen many of its assertions challenged by recent discoveries.
So some content, like transaction system training, arrives with limits as systems change in ever-increasing cycles, stamping obsolesce upon screen captures and videos almost as soon as the final rendering cycle saves the file to disk. But evergreen content, content ABOUT SOMETHING, strives for persistence once codified. Unfortunately, most knowledge ages, and as it ages, it finds itself housed in the wrong format or streamed with the wrong CODEC. Combine that with the general challenges or knowledge expansion, and even evergreen content finds itself deciduous in the end–sometimes a victim of its own hubris, sometimes a child of neglect.
Technology must partner with content development to support the migration of content to new platforms and its emendation. Organizations need to keep content current, and they need to keep it in an accessible form for editing and presentation. And as security models and enterprise platforms evolve, the content needs to be accessible in the right place in the work experience to lend value.
The following list states some of the issues with technology evolution and emerging technology that will require another rethinking of encoding, pedagogy, delivery, and engagement.
- Staying up-to-date with technology such as augmented reality (VR), virtual reality (VR), analytics, machine learning, artificial intelligence, chatbots, and other emerging technologies.
- Learning management systems (LMS), while valuable as repositories, often duplicate content management features of more generalized document management systems (like Microsoft SharePoint). Further, they suffer from the same issues as those systems, such as coding and tagging, complexity, lack of tools to manage revisions and translation, integration of rewards and incentives, and an inability to
- Implementing security models that ensure data privacy, content security, and ease of access within security constraints, such as single-sign-on (SSO).
- Rationalizing content repositories–where does content go, how is it accessed?
- Recognizing the variability of devices by implementing responsive design for user interfaces, and for content.
- Personalization that makes the most relevant content also the most accessible content.
As a human-centered technology, e-learning depends on people adopting it for success. The end goal, as with all learning, remains for a person to learn something, apply that learning, and gain value from it, for themselves, or their organization. Many factors impinge on a e-learning’s ability to serve as a tool to meet learning goals. These factors include:
- Computer literacy
- Access to the Internet
- The organization of work processes
- How people manage their time
- The impact of isolation
Balancing tight e-learning budgets remains a challenge. Although e-learning, once deployed, will likely remain deployed, it does not mean maintaining it will remain a priority.
- Leveraging automation to help manage the volume of training.
- Managing resource constraints
- Content ownership and curation
Day-to-day operations also affects the quality of e-learning experiences.
- Unrealistic Deadlines
- Inexperienced partners
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