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8 Things I’ve Learned about E-Learning in a Month

Preston Shewbridge

Hey there! I’m Preston, the new marketing intern here at IAC. I’m also a senior at Georgia Tech (Go Jackets!) where I’m constantly surrounded by all things technology. However, as a marketing student, my views on the e-learning industry are coming from a different perspective than someone from a purely technical or educational background. That being said, I’ve been at IAC for a little over a month now, and I want to share the observations I’ve made in my brief time in the hope that they offer new insights to old pros and fellow newbies alike. I’d also love to hear your thoughts on the industry, so please comment below!


1. It’s not about learning. It’s about performance.

Sounds like blasphemy, right? But it’s the truth. Organizations don’t spend their hard-earned cash on L&D for their team members to enlighten themselves. That may be a byproduct of e-learning, but its real purpose is and will always be to develop behaviors that drive performance and affect the bottom line. This is capitalism, folks, not romanticism. Don’t get me wrong—learning precedes behavior change. It is essential. But performance must dictate what—and how—we teach.



2. Nobody likes taking quizzes. 

They’re boring, and they don’t necessarily evaluate real learning. Quizzes measure short-term recall more than anything, so they incentivize a binge-and-purge approach instead of cultivating learning that lasts. And if no real learning is taking place in your training, then what really matters—behavior change—is impossible.

But the painful truth is this: quizzes aren’t going anywhere. They remain the simplest way to test and document knowledge. And quizzes do facilitate the development of mnemonic devices, which reinforce learning outcomes from other methods (like #3).

So what’s wrong with quizzes, and how can we fix them? The main problem is that most organizations aren’t designing good quizzes. If answers are always “True” or “All of the above”, and the wrong answers are blatantly wrong, then the learner has no incentive to learn. Gaming a quiz is not the same as taking a quiz. So one solution is simple: instructional designers need to be more thoughtful about, well, designing instruction!

Another solution is to create adaptive assessments. In our June webinar on Bloom’s Taxonomy, we looked at ways to design quizzes that change in length based on the number of correct or incorrect answers. By sectioning off quizzes with Bloom’s, a learner’s strengths and weaknesses can be identified and addressed accordingly. This way, a learner is only quizzed on what he or she needs to be quizzed on.



3. Scenario-based learning is king.

The best way to learn is to do. That’s why the best e-learning courses put learners inside similar situations to what they face in the real world. This approach is called scenario-based learning, and it has a couple key advantages over traditional learning methods: First, it forges an emotional connection between the learner and the content, which improves memory. Second, scenario-based learning provides a controlled environment for trainees, which is invaluable when safety is a concern.



4. Engagement is critical.

There’s a great Benjamin Franklin quote often repeated by e-learning developers: “Tell me and I forget. Teach me and I remember. Involve me and I learn.” Engagement is an e-learning developer’s number one priority. Without it, the client’s money and learner’s time are wasted. A learner must feel involved in the learning event for it to stick, so every effort must be made to create engagement. There are countless ways to accomplish this, but a few are physical interactions (buttons, sliders, drag-and-drops); dynamic visuals (graphs, diagrams, timelines, illustrations, videos); and emotional connections with content (narratives, characters, cultural references).


5. Learning styles are mythical.

The research says they don’t exist—at least not in the sense that humans are innately better able to remember information delivered in different forms. Learning preferences exist, but they are the result of our abilities, interests, and background knowledge—not the type of memory we have. And yet, learning styles continue to be a common topic in schools and other learning environments as if they do exist.

In reality, people just don’t like to pay attention to some modes of delivery when learning. And as e-learning developers, the existence of these learning preferences should still factor into how we design courses. No matter how much we fight against learning styles propaganda, people may always believe in them, which will perpetuate learning preferences. And learning preferences affect engagement, the foundation of e-learning.


6. The e-learning community is vibrant.

There are countless companies, freelancers, and interest groups sharing valuable insights on e-learning all the time. They’re easy to find through Twitter and LinkedIn, but I'll link a few of my favorites.

  • Articulate’s E-Learning Heroes – great giveaways and a vibrant community
  • eLearning Brothers – an indispensable service with a wonderful blog
  • Kasper Spiro, CEO of Easygenerator – a trusted partner and expert in the field (here's a link to one of our webinar's that Kasper conducted)
  • Oh That Rachel – a sharp, on-the-rise developer that knows her stuff!



7. Tin Can API is the future. But we’re not ready for it.

Tin Can (xAPI) is fundamentally incredible, and its potential is frighteningly powerful in conjunction with Big Data techniques and the Internet of Things (more on this in a future blog). My research tells me that the industry as a whole, and particularly LMS providers, aren't rushing to adopt this disruptive tech. But when they do, Tin Can just might change the world. 



8. K.I.S.S.

There’s a mantra among professional drummers that “Fills are for thrills, but the pocket pays the bills.” In other words, while it’s fun to be flashy, a simple, steady beat is all that most songs require—and all that most clients will pay for. So, if you want to make a living banging a drum, “Keep it simple, stupid.”

The same principle holds true for the e-learning industry. Even for large clients, awe-inspiring, Flash-based courses are often not the way to go. Many just want their course slides converted to an e-learning format. Others need more interactivity in their courses but on a cost-effective basis. And yet, like musicians that show off at sound check, many developers only advertise fancy Flash-based demos on their websites as if this weren’t the case. (And they certainly don’t mention how much these Cadillac solutions cost.)

I’m not saying that we don’t love making custom solutions with rich media and engaging graphics. This is an engagement business. But in the end, the trick to pleasing any client in any industry is this: figure out what the client wants, figure out what the client needs (there is a difference), and deliver that with great value. 

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