My career in visual-media training goes back a long way — to the earliest days of videotape instruction (black and white, as color cameras were not an option). In addition, there was no profession called “Instructional Design.” Rather an SME prepared the content (all factual with only the uniqueness of the camera work and rudimentary hand-drawn graphics to provide the motivational elements) and, then, the SME became the on-screen talent.

Later, the beginnings of Instructional Design took root. Hiring and training these earliest designers uncovered an empirical truth. The best of these earliest designers were former elementary school teachers. And, the reason became obvious. Elementary school teachers have to adapt their communication to the disparate events and learners that populate their classrooms.

Unfortunately, today, most of our Instructional Designers hold graduate degrees in the field and have had their education steeped in a higher education method of teaching. Adjustments to changing learner populations and multiple learning paths are, generally, lost in their graduate preparation.

Currently, what we are getting from much of our E-Learning design is nothing but an adaptation of the very old “lecture/reading/testing” method of instruction. It doesn’t work! (You want proof? It is estimated that 65% of would-be learners never complete a reading-based E-Learning course!)

Let’s look at a little history.

In 1944 the G.I. Bill changed the makeup of our college population and set new ground rules for the practice of adult live instruction throughout American business and industry. Prior to the G.I. Bill, less than 9 percent of Americans ever attained a college degree. The students enrolled in order to listen to authoritative lectures given by acknowledged scholars in a particular field. “Live instruction-as-lecture” was reserved for the intellectual elite.

As we now know, this “reading/lecture” education model, applied universally, has not worked well for the majority of Americans.

Fortunately, there is another form of live instruction that is both active and effective.

Live instruction in elementary school education was (and essentially still is) multimedia in design — “expose and practice” in small discrete segments. The learner reads or hears a little bit of information, practices what she has learned at home through homework assignments, and then reads or hears a little bit more about the subject the next day. A proven method of live instruction that works for most because the learner becomes an active participant in his own education.

Effective E-Learning instruction, in fact, is based on those very same principles.

Unfortunately, the passive “live instruction-as-lecture” method has — mistakenly — become the norm for our adult population today. There are three reasons why organizations can’t help but fail when using this approach.

First, workplace lectures have proven to be generally ineffective due to the listener’s inability to retain much more than a small amount of the instruction heard at a single sitting. Secondly, there is not enough time available from a “right sized” workforce to do live instruction in the “expose and practice” discrete segment way. Thirdly, the complexity of the skills required to operate under today’s workplace requirements goes far beyond what has been required in the past.

So why not use an effective E-Learning design to address these new challenges? An E-Learning design that mirrors the teaching adaptability we find in an elementary school classroom — and, not the rigid “lecture/reading/testing” model we find in a college lecture hall. In that way we can keep the best of what has worked before — “expose and practice” in small discrete segments — while combining the awesome power of video, optional full audio, and hands-on practice.

Our American workforce is very smart, talented and creative. They have always learned best by seeing and hearing. Let’s give them the learning tools they need to achieve success — and, to advance their lives and the lives of their families.

More on Tuesday – – – – –

— Bill Walton, Founder, ITC Learning
www.itclearning.com/blog/ (Tuesdays & Thursdays)
e-Mail: bwalton@itclearning.com