By Tom Graunke, Founder and CEO, StormWind
I helped create E-Learning 1.0 and am here to tell you it has been a complete and miserable failure. This is a bold statement, I realize, so let me explain. At the time, it was edgy and innovative, this idea of using online resources to provide training to vast numbers of people spread out globally. The objective of E-Learning 1.0 was to replace classroom training that required travel with a more cost-effective worldwide deployable methodology. The promise was better learning retention.
We achieved the objective pretty easily but at a steep downside. For instance, when I was helping establish the E-Learning 1.0 movement, my company was hired by Cisco to build out the sales and technical training for new products. The objective was to provide training to 50,000 systems engineers and 250,000 channel engineers without anyone, including instructors, having to travel. We were able to cut training costs by 70 percent over seven years. But there was a downside. When it came down to mission-critical learning—new deployments engineers had to learn—self-paced e-learning missed the mark massively. It seems that PowerPoint slides with voiceover, the norm for e-learning, wasn’t quite as impactful as we’d anticipated.
Holistically, savings on cost was delivered and is now the norm—you can pick up any e-learning course in a library now for as little as a $1 per class. However, the personalized nature of learning was lost. No one realized it was this personalized engagement that made the training “click” for the recipient. We thought, “Content is content, so let’s package it up and deliver it in a very cost-effective way.” In that regard, the promise was never delivered.
Those of us who have faced this failure are asking new questions: Why has e-learning failed as a tool for high learning retention? When was the last time you took an online class that completely blew you away? By this I mean, e-learning that actually got you excited? One that allowed you to learn more in three hours than if you were sitting in a classroom for three days? These questions allowed us to face where we failed, so we could fix it.
What Didn’t Work?
Very simply, we traded cost for quality. We thought that the technology available and the capabilities of broadband a decade ago made online learning a no-brainer. Again, it was simply a transfer of content. Today, vendors boast having libraries of “thousands” of titles or courses. But who cares if no one learns from them? Even the best tools for E-Learning 1.0 were still limited clip art images and basic Flash movement. And bandwidth, as we now know, was limited. Those who have been in this space for a long time may remember Ninth House Network in the ’90s. It created high-end multimedia e-learning courses. But it couldn’t deliver the courses as they were intended because none of its customers had access to the bandwidth necessary to play them. The company ended up having to deliver all of its training via CDs, which generally hampered its entire strategy. We know now it was a great idea just ahead of its time.
Over the last 10 years, technology and bandwidth have caught up. We now have a multitude of time-tested learning methodologies paired with fast, affordable tools to help us create e-learning that allows for real interaction, real engagement. In other words, we now can deliver on the objective (cost cutting) while also delivering on the promise (better learning). But the methods and delivery of E-Learning 1.0 are still predominant. There is simply no need for this failure to keep repeating itself. It’s like now we have a Ferrari and the road is wide open to let it loose, whereas before we were driving a Prius in the middle of rush hour.
Time to Renovate
There is a massive technology revolution that is slamming into the learning industry; Hollywood technology has hit the training desktop. Think of the movie industry. Why do we all enjoy (and learn from) movie trailers? A few things happen that we can apply to E-Learning 2.0:
1) Our attention is almost always captured and held during those two minutes and 12 seconds. Viewers know if they don’t pay attention they could miss something really great.
2) We learn a lot about the movie’s plot because the message is compressed and written in an intriguing way.
3) We decide if we want to see the full movie because, even after 2:12 minutes, we have learned enough to make a future buying decision.
4) Most importantly, even if the movie isn’t for us, we’ve (hopefully) enjoyed the last 2:12, and it ended as quickly as it started. It wasn’t drawn out in a painful way.
Today’s learners are no different than the people watching the movie trailer. They literally have been trained to absorb information in hyper-short bursts. For instance, YouTube used to only allow videos that were five minutes and shorter to be posted. And most games found on Facebook (Farmville, anyone?) are designed to be played in three-minute increments. At the same time, we now have the technology to deliver rich, massively entertaining content online, and we can do this for less than half the cost of in-person training. Some might call this the perfect environment for E-Learning 2.0 to rage against the machine and create something truly useful and significant.
So if the market, the available technology, and the learner all have changed, why are we still pushing a learning system that was developed nearly 20 years ago and didn’t even really succeed then?
New Principles: E-Learning 2.0
For those of us moving forward, here are some basic principles that will propel a new standard for online learning. WARNING: This won’t be easy. Everything you know about e-learning development must change to embrace E-Learning 2.0, from the technology to how you write content to how it’s delivered.
I personally believe we are facing the most exciting time yet for e-learning, and we’re about to see what the industry was always meant to become. Businesses that see the potential are realizing a far better trained workforce, and will out-perform competitors who are still using stodgy, boring education methods. Welcome to E-Learning 2.0…we’ve been waiting for you.
Tom Graunke is the founder and CEO of StormWind, and a 20-year veteran of the training and e-learning industry. He previously founded KnowledgeNet and Mastering Computers. StormWind’s next-gen HD training is taken by over 500,000 people per year, and has a 90 percent learning retention rate. Graunke can be reached at email@example.com. For more information, visit http://www.stormwind.com.