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
Steve Flowers

I called those resources or orientations, depending on the goal. I do think making information clear and handy near the point of need is, and will continue to be, a useful activity. 

http://androidgogy.com/2012/09/05/the-case-for-a-clear-lexicon-part-1-orientations/

What may decline in the future are long form self-paced modules that stand on their own. I can only hope that the number of courses that spoon feed content one slide at a time will decline.

As for integrating work and learning, I think folks can learn great things outside of work. However, the real integration of a concept occurs when it's applied and authentic feedback is provided. Otherwise the concept is temporarily shelved and purged.

Nobody really knows what the future looks like for this industry. Trends and predictions have come year after year that stuff is going to lean away from the easy-button construction of outputs that neatly package a reading assignment into a package of slides, gussy it up with a little audio and fun, and hang it on the electronic pez dispenser for folks to consume. Every year... pretty much the same as the last. E-learning courses can be really useful in some contexts. The slide-based presentation has become a dogma.

I believe the future of e-learning really isn't e-learning at all It's just stuff that helps people get their job done and either appears "automagically" when they need it or is easy to find.

Steve Flowers

If I could make a prediction that will (probably not) come true. The future of "e-learning" is atomic. An infinite connected collection of resources powered by the internet and technology interoperability standards that affords people and systems with the ability to assemble what they need, when they need it, where they need it, no matter what type of device or technology they happen to be using today, tomorrow, or 10 years from now.

A piece of text that concisely guides a task operation can be pulled into a guide for print, sent to a phone via SMS, or read by a voice response system. That same piece of text could be combined with 3 seconds cut dynamically from a video posted to YouTube to provide "just enough" support in the moment of need. That same piece of text could be combined with an image or used as a trail head to generate related links to other resources. The stuff fits together because it's not mucked up with proprietary glue and buried in slide 54 of 137 in a presentation generated by a tool that packs it in an obfuscated pile of HTML, JS, video, or Flash. 

Substitute any other atomic level media used for communication for "piece of text" above and now we're cooking with gas. See more on atomic design in this article.

http://bradfrostweb.com/blog/post/atomic-web-design/

Nancy Woinoski

@Steve - In the old days we called this performance support and "just in time learning." The idea has been around for a long time. When I worked at Nortel (over 10 years ago now, wow). My team was working on a project to integrate learning/information directly into the complex messaging systems. I'm not talking about some online help here. The trick was that we built intelligence into the system so that we could pinpoint exactly what role/permissions the person had that was using the system and then served up instructions/learning that was specific to the functions the person was permitted to perform.  I should mention that the content we served up was dynamic and included the user's own data where applicable. So for example, if the person was an end user and requested help on how to set up a conference call on their phone, we presented a demonstration that included the user's own dialling information so that they knew exactly what steps to perform.

The project got shelved when Nortel imploded which was too bad because it was one of the most interesting and challenging things that I ever did.  

Steve Flowers

Have seen the same trend, Nancy. We were doing some fantastic stuff in the early 2000's with performance support and other delivery methods. Had a cool subscription based concept we called the daily vitamin (was actually weekly) that delivered a small concept or activity in a series, every week, over several weeks.

About half of what we were doing with the CG before I left last year was performance support. The measured results were fantastic for the investment. Hard to do PS for everything. But for technical tasks, it seems like a perfect fit to most cases.

http://androidgogy.files.wordpress.com/2012/06/20120508_epss_presentation.pptx

http://androidgogy.com/epss-presentations-and-notes/

It seems like the best / most promising things end up being put in the "too hard" locker and we revert to non-stop content factory mode building stacks of slides. Slides are kind of like mold. Some mold is good (yeast / penicillin) but when you just let it grow with wild abandon, it can ruin everything... 

Nancy Woinoski

Steve Flowers said:

Have seen the same trend, Nancy. We were doing some fantastic stuff in the early 2000's with performance support and other delivery methods. Had a cool subscription based concept we called the daily vitamin (was actually weekly) that delivered a small concept or activity in a series, every week, over several weeks.

About half of what we were doing with the CG before I left last year was performance support. The measured results were fantastic for the investment. Hard to do PS for everything. But for technical tasks, it seems like a perfect fit to most cases.

http://androidgogy.files.wordpress.com/2012/06/20120508_epss_presentation.pptx

http://androidgogy.com/epss-presentations-and-notes/

It seems like the best / most promising things end up being put in the "too hard" locker and we revert to non-stop content factory mode building stacks of slides. Slides are kind of like mold. Some mold is good (yeast / penicillin) but when you just let it grow with wild abandon, it can ruin everything... 

I can envision ways to make performance support work for policy training and some types of non technical stuff by using employees IDs as the trigger but it would be costly to implement.  Companies like Amazon and others invest tons of money in developing algorithms to track user's buying and viewing habits so that they can make recommendations and serve up targeted advertising. It would be great (and maybe a little scary) if this type of thing could be applied to learning.

I can dream, but I guess I'd better get back to my stacks of slides

Astrid Case

Very interesting....There is one thing that is undeniable: A professional Instructional Designer will also know how to design, implement and evaluate performance taught on line. Period. That is where we are going, if we are not already there.

Rapid e-learning tools, etc. is part of our work as Instructional Designers. And, I love it!

My two cents!

Astrid

Jeff Kortenbosch

Hi Jeff,

You'd say that and I often recommend it to my clients, however, often they've made up their mind... They want 'e-learning'. Often a need to track (SCORM) or adding some interactive questions at the end is a need-to-have.

Alternatively I have setup a powerpoint to pdf template with a didactic structure, that from time to time does the trick. Especially in the mobile world.

The major trend I see is that companies/multinationals are not going to spend big amounts of cash on fancy courses the way they they used to. I'm part of a forum with some global companies and the general feeling, during these times of financial crisis, is that anything above €30K is NOT going to happen. No more fancy Serious Games that cost a €100K etc. We see a large move towards Studio and Storyline like tools, easy development, with relevant content. 

Traditional agencies are being bypassed for smaller, often one-man companies.

Jeff Fuqua

Jeff Kortenbosch said:

The major trend I see is that companies/multinationals are not going to spend big amounts of cash on fancy courses the way they they used to. I'm part of a forum with some global companies and the general feeling, during these times of financial crisis, is that anything above €30K is NOT going to happen. No more fancy Serious Games that cost a €100K etc. We see a large move towards Studio and Storyline like tools, easy development, with relevant content. 

Traditional agencies are being bypassed for smaller, often one-man companies.


Exactly the same as what happened in the graphic/web industry years ago. Budgets shrank. Tons of small shops popped up. Gone were many of the massive agencies. 

The one thing I see as possibly being different is that many companies tend to cut budgets for marketing-related needs when the economy is down. Aren't more and more companies looking towards e-learning as a budget-saving move?

Astrid Case

NO MORE BUDGET  for unnecessary learning interventions. Our field as instructional designers is to improve performance. Having said that,  training is one of the many ways you have at your disposal to close gaps in human performance...

If you know your instructional design principles and learning theory very well, and know PowerPoint like TOM?, that is all you need for online learning, if on- line instruction is needed, of course, and PowerPoint will suffice for your instructional needs.

Thank you!

Bud Keegan

Fascinating topic.  A few comments:

Agree w/Bruce's take.  From a commercial perspective, it is all about ROI so whatever gets the job done cheapest, fastest & bestest will "win".  War & Peace not required (we've found that shorter, punchier mods get much more engagement that History of the World versions w/loads of content).

We find that from an organisational standpoint, e-learning (and all the metrics associated w/it) is usually an agent for culture change.  It is merely a conduit and there's a big piece outside of it that truly makes it work (or not).

Storytelling is the heart of the whole thing.  Design, scripting, production-- anyone in e-learning is essentially directing a cinematic feature.  The difference between effective & ineffective e-learning is how the director is able to pull out those elements that combine to create a memorable experience.  Googling the Civil War is a far inferior experience to watching Gone with The Wind.  Kids these days start with a video experience and not so much the source material.

Desktop publishing killed lucrative, if less compelling, communication channels like newsletter and the like for designers, but the need for great design has never and will never disappear.  I suspect the market for e-learning pros will explode as a post-literate generation comes online and employers resort to gamification strategies to engage digital natives (like my 20 yo daughter).

Thanks for posting 1st principles-- have dl'd and will have a read!

Bruce Graham

@Bud - some great observations there.

I specifically liked:

"The difference between effective & ineffective e-learning is how the director is able to pull out those elements that combine to create a memorable experience".

That's how I feel more and more - like a Director rather than an ID, and it actually feels good.

Vasily Ingogly

I'm not a professional instructional designer, in that I make my living as a SharePoint business analyst 9 to 5, and have a side business as a WordPress developer. I have read several books on e-learning: Clark and Mayer, Horton, and Allen. I do instruction as part of my position, and have throughout my career in computers which spans about 40 years now (I wrote my first FORTRAN program circa 1962, in high school).

Large companies have departments that develop instructional design for the company. We have one, but when I've asked for help I haven't gotten it ... so I've developed what I have on my own, based on my experience and the books I've read, and my knowledge of human psychology I've gleaned from my second career as a clinical counselor. Most smaller companies I've worked for/with have not had a budget that supported bringing in an instructional designer, so technical and user documentation has been developed typically by techies whose written and verbal communication skills have left something to be desired. I suspect in the future you're going to see less reliance on full-time instructional designers and more of a trend to do everything in-house, except  probably for educational organizations.

I don't know what the future holds, but I would hope for someone coming along and building an instructional design environment that walks folks through the process of gathering information, extracting requirements, and doing the actual design. The software would have, in other words, a learning component built into it. This could be another layer built into a tool like Storyline, or a separate app that works with Storyline/Articulate Studio in a fairly seamless fashion. A good portion of the rules that are embodied in Clark/Meyer, Horton etc. could be proceduralized, or an AI layer built that would watch out for red flags and make suggestions to the user.