Know Your Subjects

Training Challenge Number Six: “The failure to recognize e-learning that truly works”

The sixth essential quality for truly effective e-learning is a course design that exhibits “Subject-appropriate Instructional Design.”

Many years ago (in the days of interactive laser videodiscs) I was invited by the president of one of the Big Three auto makers to attend a meeting in Detroit in order to help him understand why a very expensive math program for UAW employees had resoundingly failed. The program had been created by the deans of mathematics, or their representatives, from sixteen Michigan colleges and universities.

At that meeting, I asked two questions: “How many of your assembly plants had been visited by this creative team?” And, “How many UAW workers had they talked with?”

The answer to both questions was the same: “None.”

That story says it all. These professors obviously knew their subject well. But they failed, totally, to package their knowledge into a subject-appropriate design.

And there you have it. Successful learning begins and the results end with the abilities (or lack thereof) of the instructional designers.

How, then, should you proceed when tasked with evaluating vendor-produced e-learning or with online programs you choose to produce for your own organization?

First we must acknowledge that effective educational programming has always been a designer’s medium. It has never been an evolving electronic gadgetry world. Instead, it has been developed and used as yet another communication tool for efficiently transferring skills and knowledge, just as the written word, printed text and video have all been in the hands of talented master teachers.

Quoting from a “White Paper” by Trishia Jandu, we find that, “Statistics show that 50% of learners who have begun an asynchronous online course do not complete the training. The high dropout rate has been attributed to poor instructional design and a disparity between the learner’s computer system and the technology required to run the courseware. The On-Line medium presents an opportunity for developers to harness the flexibility of the technology, tailoring to learners’ needs, styles, and preferences. On-Line courses must be created to facilitate comprehension, retention, and effective application in the workplace.”

And it all starts with the content, the people to be trained, the goals, the varying learning cultures and the design knowledge of those characteristics that will enhance retention.

— Bill Walton, Founder of ITC Learning