The return of eLearning

The return of eLearning

New technology has always been greeted with excitement. With the enthusiasm of a child learning something new for the first time people have always jumped at the idea of innovative products, dreaming of all the ways they are going to revolutionise our lives. However, in an oft-repeated sequence known as the Gartner Hype Cycle, there is soon a realisation this new way forward isn’t going to change everything and the technology suffers a big dip in popularity. Once people come to terms with the true value of the product and the ways it can genuinely make a difference it gradually returns to the market in a more realistic form.

A great recent example of this was the dot-com bubble. In the mid-1990s as people were beginning to wake up to the value of the internet there was an explosion of web-based companies, especially retailers. After the crash those that survived gradually built up their businesses again over the next decade and grew to the point that this Christmas period saw all online sales records broken.

The great leap forward

In the world of learning this cycle is all too familiar. At the turn of the century there was a buzz about virtual learning and the ways in which it was going to change the way we think about L&D. The death of classroom learning was forecast and organisations everywhere were looking at how they could jump on board the bandwagon. Anyone familiar with the industry over that period might see echoes in the current keenness for mobile learning; this decade’s next big thing.

The attraction was pretty easy to understand. Expensive training days could be replaced by a simple system available to operate at an employee’s desk and accessible anywhere in the world. Overheads could be slashed while still delivering training to the same amount of delegates and programmes for thousands of people could be managed and run by just a few individuals in a central location.

What went wrong?

Simply put, the product didn’t live up to the hype. While there have been some notable successes in areas where it’s important to learn rules and be tested on them – like compliance and health and safety – for the most part the ROI just wasn’t good enough. And, unlike classroom programmes which can be tested on a small sample group, the cost of eLearning programmes lies in development so companies had to pay the full cost of the programme up front before they could ever find out how well it worked.

So what has changed?

  • The technology has moved on: As is often the case in technology Hype Cycles, the initial excitement about what eLearning could achieve was based on what it could possibly do rather than what it could actually do. As computer and internet technology has moved on apace, so has the quality of the programmes eLearning providers are able to produce.
  • The focus is very much on interactivity: It’s perhaps the most trotted out line in L&D but the best way of learning is by doing. A common problem with eLearning is that it simply tries to transfer classroom learning onto a computer program. Losing the human element makes those programs little more than digital books and exams. At the recent Learning Technologies exhibition in London two things were clear: eLearning was on the rise (every other stand was an eLearning provider) and the buzzword was interaction. Learning games and negotiable environments where the delegate has to engage with the learning are clearly part of any modern eLearning program.
  • A recognition of eLearning as a training tool, not learning panacea: Now learning professionals have come to understand the limits of eLearning its value where it can be used effectively is more widely recognised. As a tool, eLearning cannot replace traditional methods in many areas but can be an excellent way to help reduce costs when used in conjunction with other programmes.

Looking to the future it seems likely eLearning will continue to grow and develop as a learning tool. While gaming and mobile learning may right now be in the upward lurch of the Hype Cycle and will probably not live up to expectations, in the coming years the most obvious direction is a convergence of all three. For the time being, though, eLearning is definitely back on the L&D radar.

Looking to the future it seems likely eLearning will continue to grow and develop as a learning tool. While gaming and mobile learning may right now be in the upward lurch of the Hype Cycle and will probably not live up to expectations, in the coming years the most obvious direction is a convergence of all three. For the time being, though, eLearning is definitely back on the L&D radar.