The future of eLearning Development

I wanted some insight from those of you who have been doing this for a long time on a topic I see potentially related to one I am very familiar.

My background is in graphic/web design. I actually started before computers (I'm 51) and, in that day and age, the only way you could get anything printed was to hire someone who had the technical skills and know-how to make it happen. Yes, dinosaurs still roamed the earth at that time.

Along comes the early desktop publishing software programs a few years into my career. The programs were still complex, limiting and very expensive so a designer still had to be hired to produce the majority of print.

A decade into my career, along comes the internet. New software but few except those with a lot of training and experience could produce a quality website for the first few years.

Fast-forward a few years and the software has become easier and easier to use. People can go out and buy their own software and produce a lot of what I used to be paid to do. Same with websites. Content management systems and online sites which automate the process makes it easy for anyone to produce their own site.

Note, I'm not saying most can produce quality graphic design or websites just because they can use software but it's gotten easier with templates, etc. for most to make stuff which looks more professional. It continues to drive down prices across the industry while colleges continue to pump out grads into an already over-saturated market.

I'm here now because I'm exploring trying to learn eLearning Development. As someone with 15 years of teaching experience, I'm thinking it's a natural way to blend my passion for design and teaching and, hopefully, allow me to expand my offerings.

Based on the last few years, do you see this industry following the trend of graphic and web design in that those who have done traditional training/teaching without eLearning Development skills/experience are finding it easier to produce their own online content?

What do you see as the future?

44 Replies
Nick n/a

Sure Jeff,

I didn't understand the idea at first.

I first found this from looking at David Merrill at Utah State University.

If you look at this youtube video he first mentions it in the first two minutes.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=i_TKaO2-jXA

Once you understand the concept it makes perfect sense.

If you want people to learn something and the easy availability of rapid-authoring tools and the numbers of people who can use those tools then you have websites, elearning programs, powerpoints, youtube videos, prezi etc that are all created TO TEACH SOMETHING OR GIVE INFORMATION.

But these same people don't understand how people learn or even all the relevant information.

So they just create content and dump it online. Hence, Merrill describes 'Information Dumps' and 'Shovelware'

Please note that this isn't a dig at those who work in the elearning industry.

Anyone with sufficient interest could use most free tools online to create this material. Look at World of Warcraft Universe wiki as an example:

http://www.wowwiki.com

I'm sure that there also those who find this content useful. I don't play WoW personally but you can understand my meaning from it.

'The internet is the smartest and dumbest thing in the world at the same time.' Not sure who quoted it.

Nicholas

Jeff Fuqua

Nicholas Ostheimer said:

Sure Jeff,

I didn't understand the idea at first.

I first found this from looking at David Merrill at Utah State University.

If you look at this youtube video he first mentions it in the first two minutes.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=i_TKaO2-jXA

Once you understand the concept it makes perfect sense.

If you want people to learn something and the easy availability of rapid-authoring tools and the numbers of people who can use those tools then you have websites, elearning programs, powerpoints, youtube videos, prezi etc that are all created TO TEACH SOMETHING OR GIVE INFORMATION.


Very nice. Thanks for sharing.

It parallels with my experience with graphic and web design. Just because something exists doesn't make it effective. 

But isn't a large part of eLearning development people hired to create online courses based on materials developed by trainers/instructors? Point being, just because one understands learning doesn't necessarily make them qualified to design effective eLearning. 

Example: I have a good friend who is an excellent advertising writer but can't design ads. When he tries, it stands in the way of his great writing because his lack of design skills makes his content distracting.

The overall final product becomes much less than it could be because it's now easy/cheaper to do it yourself than hire someone who understands visual communication.

Sheila Bulthuis

Jeff Fuqua said:

 But isn't a large part of eLearning development people hired to create online courses based on materials developed by trainers/instructors? Point being, just because one understands learning doesn't necessarily make them qualified to design effective eLearning. 

 Example: I have a good friend who is an excellent advertising writer but can't design ads. When he tries, it stands in the way of his great writing because his lack of design skills makes his content distracting.

 The overall final product becomes much less than it could be because it's now easy/cheaper to do it yourself than hire someone who understands visual communication.

Jeff, I agree that not everyone understands visual communication, and there are also people (I put myself in this category) who do understand it but aren't great at creating it.  As needed, those people should work with people who ARE good at that.  But it sounds a  little like you're thinking of good e-learning as being all about visual design, and to me, it's not.

To me, "effective e-learning" requires three different types of  design/development, each of which requires different competencies:  Visual , instructional , and functional.  They're inter-related (and so are their respective competencies) but they're not all the same thing.  You need all three to varying degrees, depending on the project.

Developing e-learning from materials created by trainers/instructors isn't as simple (in my opinion) as it may sound.  Let's put aside the question of whether those materials are actually instructionally sound - we'll assume that they are.  Even so, if they were created for ILT and you're converting them to e-learning, that requires some instructional design work (although of course not as much as if you were creating a course from scratch!)  If what you're given is a storyboard or something similar, designed/developed specifically for e-learning, then you don't have to worry about the ID side of things. 

In either case, you still have to deal with the visual side of things; but not all courses require great graphics.  And to me, great graphics (or for that matter, flashy programming) are never going to make up for poorly designed/developed content.  You can create a gorgeous course, and use lots of the cool functionality of a product like Storyline, but if there's no thought given to the ID side of things, at the end of the day you don't have an effective course. 

So I agree that simply knowing learning doesn't make someone qualified to develop e-learning, but I'd add that being great at using a tool like Storyline doesn't either, and neither does being a great graphics/visual person. 

Nancy Woinoski

Sheila Cole-Bulthuis said:

Jeff Fuqua said:

 But isn't a large part of eLearning development people hired to create online courses based on materials developed by trainers/instructors? Point being, just because one understands learning doesn't necessarily make them qualified to design effective eLearning. 

 Example: I have a good friend who is an excellent advertising writer but can't design ads. When he tries, it stands in the way of his great writing because his lack of design skills makes his content distracting.

 The overall final product becomes much less than it could be because it's now easy/cheaper to do it yourself than hire someone who understands visual communication.

Jeff, I agree that not everyone understands visual communication, and there are also people (I put myself in this category) who do understand it but aren't great at creating it.  As needed, those people should work with people who ARE good at that.  But it sounds a  little like you're thinking of good e-learning as being all about visual design, and to me, it's not.

To me, "effective e-learning" requires three different types of  design/development, each of which requires different competencies:  Visual , instructional , and functional.  They're inter-related (and so are their respective competencies) but they're not all the same thing.  You need all three to varying degrees, depending on the project.

Developing e-learning from materials created by trainers/instructors isn't as simple (in my opinion) as it may sound.  Let's put aside the question of whether those materials are actually instructionally sound - we'll assume that they are.  Even so, if they were created for ILT and you're converting them to e-learning, that requires some instructional design work (although of course not as much as if you were creating a course from scratch!)  If what you're given is a storyboard or something similar, designed/developed specifically for e-learning, then you don't have to worry about the ID side of things. 

In either case, you still have to deal with the visual side of things; but not all courses require great graphics.  And to me, great graphics (or for that matter, flashy programming) are never going to make up for poorly designed/developed content.  You can create a gorgeous course, and use lots of the cool functionality of a product like Storyline, but if there's no thought given to the ID side of things, at the end of the day you don't have an effective course. 

So I agree that simply knowing learning doesn't make someone qualified to develop e-learning, but I'd add that being great at using a tool like Storyline doesn't either, and neither does being a great graphics/visual person. 


Exactly - well said Sheila.

Steve Flowers

Sheila's model of contributions is really similar to mine. These three categories are what I call the three legs to a successful program. And each category could easily be subdivided into specialties.

[Wow... that image came in small. Attached larger version.]

The overlap varies but I think a degree of overlap is necessary. An ISD should have a reasonable understanding both of the tools and the scale of effort it might take to execute the vision. Unrealistic expectations kill projects. The same goes for the technical and media contributors. If one person in one category doesn't understand enough about the other components of the equation, misalignment and frustration is sure to follow.

In my experience, the ISD typically takes lead on a design. This isn't always the best choice. Regardless, It's important for each contributor to understand the limits of their own energy and share part or all of the vision creation duties. If one person in one category develops a vision independent of the other two legs, misalignment and frustration is sure to follow.

One final thought - I think the magic sauce that makes a great instructional designer is the ability and willingness to ask the right questions. For that matter, asking the right questions would seem to be central to any design practice. In my view, it's absolutely critical that the contributor that connects the solution with the business goals and performance gaps to ask the right questions to identify and validate the linkages. The person that identifies these connections and asks these questions is usually an instructional design type.

@Nancy - As for Merrill, he's been around awhile. Dave's more of a theory of practice guy than a practice of theory guy. Since he's an academic, I give him a little bit of grace for not practicing it in that video piece. He could have used some good examples and the audio in that piece was terrible. But the message is on point. 

Jeff Fuqua

Sheila Cole-Bulthuis said:

But it sounds a  little like you're thinking of good e-learning as being all about visual design, and to me, it's not.

I'm sorry but I didn't mean to imply that at all. I only meant that the most effective visual communication includes proper use of design elements, type, color, etc. It's not about making something "slick" but communicate effectively (make it more readable, enhance the content, etc.)

The Merrill video is a great example. The content itself is outstanding. But I didn't see anything to really engage me beyond that. There were even things which distracted (like a person going up/down stairs, no movement, poor lighting, etc. 

If the goal were to make it the most effective eLearning tool possible, adding some graphic content, especially to drive home key points and review at the end, would have only made it better and more effective, IMO.

Sheila Bulthuis

Jeff, I think we're basically saying the same thing, content and presentation are both important (and I think I misinterpreted your comments initially - my apologies).  Which is more important, or whether they're equally important, depends on the situation. 

My opinion is that in too many cases, people over-emphasize the visual/functionality pieces.  For example, sometimes when clients are looking at different e-learning vendors, they're all about "how cool do your courses look."  Unless they're handing over something that's completely ready for production and needs no ID effort at all, I think they should also be considering "how did this course relate to the business need" and "how instructionally sound is this course".

Okay, finally coming down off my soapbox now. 

xin Tong

I thought the question was the future of this industry? Why are you guys discussing learning principles and the role of instructional designer here?

To Jeff: yes, I think the industry is going down the web design route (the rate is much lower than three years ago).

Two main reasons for this.

First, as the tools get easier to use, too many people get into this inductry, making it very competitive.

Second, many clients don't understand good learning designs themselves (nor good user experience design). They are just looking for cheap and flashy stuff.

Jeff Fuqua

xin Tong said:

To Jeff: yes, I think the industry is going down the web design route (the rate is much lower than three years ago).

Two main reasons for this.

First, as the tools get easier to use, too many people get into this inductry, making it very competitive.

Second, many clients don't understand good learning designs themselves (nor good user experience design). They are just looking for cheap and flashy stuff.


It's my hope the ceiling for eLearning course development is not closing fast so the demand will be there for a long time to come.

Bruce Graham

OK....

Time to put my head above the parapet here...

Sometimes all clients want is information.

Here's the thing....we are moving, for example, towards a world where (sales)people access "courses" on their iPad in the car park 5 minutes before a meeting. Do they have time for a video with clicky buttons and a beautifully designed Drag-and-Drop interaction? No - not always.

Sometimes - all they want is VERY EASY ACCESS (one or two clicks) to something that explains the product, the price-points, and the consumer benefits. Yes - that is an "information dump". It's the electronic equivalent of cramming for an exam.

This can be designed well, and it can be flashy, but it is not the fully-fledged "eLearning course" that we have come to know and love.

That is still there - but do not knock the "information dump", or dismiss it so quickly. Actually - it is often exactly what is needed. The part where we come in is helping with the correct modality, making it relevant to the learners, and creating it appropriately.

Just a thought.

Bruce Graham

Nicholas Ostheimer said:

An insightful thought Bruce.

Do you have a name of this type of course?

I saw a post where Steve Flowers described how future elearning tools would be used. Similar to small modular pieces being put together.

It sounds like a better alternative to a google or Baidu search.

Nicholas


"Creating-something-that-should-probably-be-provided-by-Marketing"     

I call it a "rapid-reaction microcourse", but I made that up so there's probably a better name for it

The big problem to deploying is always how many clicks are required to get there. 56 clicks on an LMS to get to it is not acceptable, but then you may need to do a huge cultural change to get people realising you do not track all learning. Sometimes the measure of success is "Did it help you close the sale?" rather than "Did they get 80%?".