Why is eLearning undervalued? Peter Phillips considers….

Why is eLearning undervalued? Peter Phillips considers…. Peter Phillips'(Unicorn Training Chairman) considers why eLearning may still be undervalued as a training resource despite the cultural fascination with online technologies....... "Last week David Guralnick, president of the International eLearning Association (IELA), suggested end user experience is 'undervalued' in much eLearning, although he went on to insist many of the downsides to online training are product specific not with the overall concept. I’m sure most of us can think of examples that fit David’s comments. The reality is we operate in a world where ‘good’ eLearning is often judged on the criterion of ‘wow that looks amazing’ rather than ‘wow that has great learning outcomes’. That is not to deny the importance of engaging, eye catching design, but its purpose should be to enhance the learning experience not to distract from it. We still see many examples of ‘find the next button, then click it and read’ or impressive design to disguise a course that is actually very poorly written, with little real instructional design and probably limited investment in testing the learning outcomes. One cause of this in my experience is that the decision makers who commission eLearning are rarely also the end users. As a salesperson you may only have a few minutes to impress the potential customer, and even where you set up a full course demo for the client to review at their own pace the stats show that they rarely spend more than five minutes online. The commercial eLearning provider therefore would be daft not to ensure their courses have a strong upfront wow factor. The problems arise only if they then lose sight of the real purpose of the project. So how do you ensure that something has that double wow factor where the user experience is not only thoroughly engaging and motivating but also produces the desired learning outcomes? Well, in fact far from being alternatives, good design and effective learning go together like Pooh and Piglet. A particularly effective approach is to make the eLearning experience immersive by putting learners directly into familiar ‘real life’ situations and allowing them to learn by exploring These principles of action-based learning, providing real emotional engagement for the learner, have been long applied in the world of simulations, but improvements in technology, new tools and higher customer expectations now allow us to build them into eLearning courseware development. In one such course we developed for Volkswagen Financial Services, instead of starting with the all-too familiar learning objectives and menu screens, the learner is immediately faced with a challenge on the showroom floor with customers waiting. As it would be in their everyday job, if they don’t know the answers to customer questions, at any point they are able to pop back into their virtual office and search for the information using a range of interactive tools. They can look in a filing cabinet, on their computer, open the folders on their desk, use the calculator and so on. A mentor is on-hand throughout the course to provide guidance and summarise key points. Signposting is minimal as the course is designed to be intuitive. Other context-based learning techniques include using short attention-catching cameo videos at the start of courses, with a character (a professional actor) talking emotionally direct to camera about a certain situation they are in that is directly relevant to the learner, and enabling learners to choose the job role most relevant to them at the start of the course and tackling case studies appropriate to their sector/role. Course design is also critical. The whole point of action-based learning is that learners are not tested on their memory of facts but on their ability to apply these facts in practical situations. That is good eLearning, achieving the desired double wow factor and guaranteeing that neither the end user experience nor what learners take away from the course are compromised in favour of the other.” Listen to Peter Phillips' thoughts on immersive learning here.

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