Books vs. eLearning

Mar 06, 2012

I have a client who owns a website that offers very complex, detailed tests to graduate students. He wants to take that content and turn it into eLearnings or online lectures. He's just starting out with this idea so doesn't have much direction on where he wants to go, but this was his initial thought. After talking with him more and discussing the scope of his project, he's now learning this is a much larger project than he initially realized and made the content, "Well maybe I should just take the content and put it into a book."

Does anyone have any resources on the benefits of online learning vs. simply reading a book?

7 Replies
Natalia Mueller

I don't have any resources on the topic, tho some benefits that come to mind for each are


Ability to make it interactive

Include  linked resources (documents, videos, websites, wikis, message boards, etc)

measure understanding

tracking/reporting cabilities

If the interest is there, he could have the option to interact with the learners thru other web-based programs

Easier to change/update post production


Probably a more direct transfer of the content and therefore smaller project scope

Less labor intensive (maybe not. I've never written a book)

Could still interact online, but would have to get them there first

Less responsibility post production

I'm sure there are many many more. The main things I would be interested in knowing from him is what level of interaction is he looking for and is he interested in tracking/reporting abilities. If he's not, if he just wants a way to give out information, then maybe a book is the best route.

Rich Johnstun

I spent my first 8 years in the business standing in front of students everyday. What I quickly learned is that different people learn in different ways. You can go even further to say that an individual will absorb different topics in different ways. It may seem like common sense, but it didn't really hit me how much weight this concept has until I was living it every day. 

I'm able to learn by reading and since I'm that way I made the assumption that everyone was that way. So, I would stand in front of my students, spew forth a fountain of wisdom (I'm sure they would recant the experience a bit differently) and then say, "OK, go do it!", meaning go complete the exercise. They would sit there with blank stares as if they had little concept as to what I had just told them. This became a big source of frustration for me. How can you not know what to do when I just spent the last 30 minutes explaining it to you?

It wasn't until I realized that I was the weird one that I really was able to become a truly effective instructor. Most people don't learn from hearing, reading or even seeing...they learn by doing. Most people learn by the application of knowledge. It's my belief that most people can understand ideas, concepts and philosophies through the reading of texts, but they don't truly learn until they can apply the information. 

So, I guess it comes down to what is the subject, who is the audience and what is the expectation? Do you want me to learn all about the philosophical teachings of Plato? I can probably get a good understanding of that by curling up with a book. Now, if you want me to apply those philosophies, then I would greatly benefit from some scenarios and contextual application exercises. 

As with most of my ramblings, I've made sweeping statements and gross generalizations so do not hesitate to disregard anything I have said. 

Natalia Mueller

You're right, Rich. It depends very much on what they're supposed to do with the information.

My husband is a programmer. He can read a manual and walk away able to do it. All I get from reading is a general comprehension. If I want to retain anything, I have to take it step by step and sit there and DO it, add the steps together and repeat. Then if I don't do it again the next day I lose it.  

Plus when I read Christina's post and see "very complex and detailed" (and I'm guessing also "long"), I don't know how well that will translate into eLearning. There is always a way, but it does sound like a very large project scope. If the client is just looking for a way to transfer his knowledge to others, whether or not they get it enough to use it may not be the concern. 

Christina, have your conversations with him given you any insight into what the end result is supposed to be? It may be easier to find resources/stats on a specific outcome. (ie ability to comprehend, ability to retain, apply, etc.)

Steve Flowers

I'm like Rich. I learn by reading, synthesizing and validating through texts and nuanced interactions with created context and exploration of tasks on my own. It baffles me that others don't learn the same way. But, yeah... folks like me ARE the weird ones. Learn by do and by application is the best way to clarify processes and concepts for most of the learners I've encountered. Small failures and accomplishments mean much more than text to most folks. These become the anchors as many folks have trouble visualizing performance of tasks they've never attempted. The first-timer's barrier is seriously distracting - there's nothing to scaffold up the experience.

I think implementation / selection of format and media depends on 1) your content and 2) what you want folks to actually do with that content.

That said, I think there's a good compromise that offers interaction opportunities across the progressive load scale (motor, sensory, cognitive, emotional) while providing a reasonable container for oodles of support content. Thinking of each topic as an element and breaking the element down into subelements on a single page you create opportunities and direction (top to bottom) in a text / article while still providing other interaction opportunities to share a story, explore an illustration or complete an activity.

Here's an example of how an article or book-like content could look when enhanced by video. I like this because it ties the context of the content with the context of the enhancement VERY closely:

BTW, Jon Kolko's book Thoughts on Interaction Design is pretty full of awesome. Recommend this book for any learning experience designer. Solid gold.

I'm doing some work on a responsive framework that works similarly to the link above. It weaves in activities, videos, audio clips and other media to be presented inline and in context with article content. All on one page for one topic but filterable to the participant's liking and tuned based on the platform the learner is accessing the experience from. I'm calling it the ActiveTutorial framework. I think simple assemblies like this that suppress the fog of "next" while still providing control to those that want smaller doses is the way to go in more cases than the standard dogmatic e-learning presentation style.

Marty King

I think studies show that only 10% of students learn from reading. That leaves 90% of your audience in the dark. Reading is not always engaging and of course not all eLearning courses are engaging. Design is critical to attain true engagement. I am not talking about clicking a button either, I mean inviting the learning to think for themselves. Depending on your audience (engineers, lawyers), reading may  not cover the broad spectrum of learning styles. As suggested by others, well designed eLearning use blended mediums to engage the learner.

Holly MacDonald

Christina - it may be useful to frame the discussion as "and" instead of "or". Does he have to choose? Is he open to thinking of a multi-faceted solution? Don't get too sucked into the effectiveness of one delivery model over another, I think it's a distraction. Instead, focus on goals and instructional strategy.

Not sure if that's helpful, but that's what I would do.


PS - Steve - that active tutorial framework sounds pretty cool

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