As I mentioned Tuesday, on December 5th in Dubai I had the unique, and meaningful, experience of being able to express some of the ideas I’ve been advocating in America these past three decades. The speech was delivered at the Training & Development Middle East Conference in the World Trade Center. Here is the text of those remarks:

We’ve come a long way down the technology trail in the past three decades. The training challenges for our workforce have been immense.

Having lived through the earliest years of videotape training — with a camera in my hands — an engineer to provide content and very loose scripting — along with a two-inch reel-to-reel (black & white) mastering machine — the evolution in today’s learning technologies is awesome.

I was also one the pioneers in the giant instructional design steps that interactive laser videodisc first offered the worlds of education and training. And, later, I participated in the smaller steps afforded by our digital technologies — from CD- ROM to the present day’s e-Learning.

Training has never been more necessary. And, the opportunities for more effective learning have never been greater. E-learning and CD-ROM technology have made more and better learning a reality, while increasing necessary retention. Full media-rich training has, provably, contributed to the financial returns enjoyed by the wiser organizations and to the employees in their workforce.

All training, however, is not equally effective. All courseware titles are not equal in scope or production design. All trainees do not come to you from a single learning culture.

Many studies have proven that traditional “lecture/reading/testing” training programs no longer give the payback in skills acquisition and ROI that they once did.

In my country, 40% of the workforce does not comprehend anything written above a 4th grade reading level. And, only 34% of our high school seniors can form opinions from anything they read.

And, did you know that the leading cause of accidents regarding respirator equipment is because too many workers cannot read the manufacturer’s instructions? So, they just wing it — hoping not to be found out.
That is because for individuals born after 1960, their learning culture has become a TV, simulations, and games learning culture. That is why, beginning with interactive laser videodisc in the 1980s and CD-ROM in the 1990s, multi-sensory learning became the surest way to a training payback.

Today, we are evolving into an e-Learning training environment. But, learning and retention have not profited in the ways we expected.

That is because most of the current e-Learning examples have taken us backwards into the “reading/testing” world.

In their zest to make a quick buck, far too many producers have taken the route of PowerPoint adaptation and written procedure adaptation into an e-Learning environment. The much more effective multi-sensory approach has disappeared as these counterfeit e-Learning offerings proliferate.

The consequences are great. Skills are no longer being acquired as readily. The bottom line contribution of training has shrunk. And, all because we have forgotten to insist on a continuum in the multi-sensory approach to learning. An approach that first triumphed in the days of interactive laser videodisc and continued to reap great rewards as we transitioned into CD-ROM delivery.

We should all stand up and insist that those training initiatives which actually improve learning and lengthen retention are the ones that incorporate multi-sensory delivery — and we must summarily reject those adapted PowerPoint and written procedures that never belonged in an e-Learning environment in the first place.

If we don’t — but, continue to buy (or, build) converted PowerPoint and written procedures — we are wasting our organization’s money; depriving our workers who are seeking opportunity; and, cheating our company from acquiring those additional skills which they will need in order to become more efficient and more profitable. If that type of pseudo training (converted PowerPoints) is incorporated into the e-Learning initiatives you purchase or build yourself — then why bother!!!

So, “yes,” effective training can significantly increase skills and contribute mightily to the bottom line — but only “IF” we demand a multi-sensory approach to the e-Learning initiatives we build and purchase.

And that, my friends, is a very big “IF!”

Today’s learner, all too often, is being left out in the cold. Unfortunately, talking about technology from the learner’s point of view, rather than the digital, seems to be an antiquated discussion packaged away with a box of yesterday’s videodiscs.

Regrettably, too many vendors continue to hawk their own particular one-dimensional solutions – regardless of the customer’s increasingly sophisticated education/training challenges. The potential learner is in danger of getting lost in this early age of digital networking.

And no single vendor can help the instructor make the correct choice(s). Don’t most courseware-providers have but a single solution to offer? Their own! And isn’t their task to get you to bend ‘your problem’ to meet ‘their solution’ so that they can sell their own proprietary products to you (a ‘one size fits all’ approach)?

And—if you’ll please indulge me—the vendors that hurt our industry the most are those vendors offering authoring systems or tools—designed to convert your PowerPoints into an e-Learning environment — a misnomer, if there ever was one. And, all for a quick and easy buck.

The results you get may be e-Information — they will never be e-Learning!

Most people are multi-sensory learners when it comes to skills acquisition. ‘Seeing’, ‘hearing’, and ‘doing’ – in combination – is still the best way.

In fact, studies continue to reveal that using “seeing-hearing-doing” multimedia (in a multi-sensory environment) will increase the majority of learners’ understanding by more than 50%, resulting in a 25-50% greater learning retention, and with a 50-60% greater consistency in content understanding – the ultimate aim of all learning.

The challenge to acquire the necessary knowledge to “choose what’s best” in today’s eclectic world of choices is almost too much for any individual trainer or educator. If “one size no longer fits all”, the challenge lies in making the best possible choices in order to effectively equip the learner with the necessary skills.

Multiple-solutions tailored to the diverse needs of the organization are the most important challenge facing business, education and government trainers/educators today. Like almost all things, this challenge can be met – but, only if the knowledge and experience are there.

Too few, charged with making training initiative decisions for their organization, have very little real understanding of the learning process. They concentrate on the technology capabilities of digital media. And, then, they lump everything together and decide that “if it plays, it works.”

How foolish! Information conveyance has both a purpose and means for achieving results. So do training and education! And guess what? Their purposes and means are vastly different.

Information is there for the taking. Either you choose to acquire it — or, you don’t. Effective training and education, on the other hand, rely on such factors as stimulation, simulation and self-interest. We acquire short-term knowledge because it’s there. Yet, we forget newspaper articles quickly and retain little of a PowerPoint outline days after it has been presented.

In fact—are you aware that when presented with a converted PowerPoint presentation delivered as an e-Learning course, 68% of your learners will choose not to complete it!

But, e-Learning (in its intended sense) links us to the content being presented. It has relevance to our own lives and the skills that we want to acquire. It speaks to us in our own learning culture (and, today, that culture is television- or video-gaming-based). It comes to us in short chunks in order to allow us to ponder, chew and swallow discreet objectives. It presents us with simulations, so that we can try it out with our own hands. In short, it lives and it breathes in a world that touches us directly.

The best in e-Learning empowers its students and trainees. It opens their eyes to possibility; it increases their capabilities; and it frees them to make better choices. Isn’t that what learning is supposed to be about?!?

There you have it! It is just as important to know what constitutes the E-Learning courses you should neither build nor buy as it is to recognize the characteristics of the e-Learning courses that actually do contribute to learning and retention.

You’re interested in results — and, those results will be measured in the office or on the plant floor — through increased skills and better task performance. Make sure your e-Learning courseware contributes to that environment.

We’ve said it before: “Retention that translates into more productive on-the-job performance is the only valid measurement to use when evaluating your training initiatives!”

Yes, you must always keep in mind that the only training initiatives that have positive impacts on an organization’s performance — and, future — are those programs that generate longer-term retention — and, immediately translate into increased productivity.

You’ll quickly discover that training initiatives rooted in full motion video have the most positive impact on increasing longer term retention.

Full motion video, showing real plant environments with real plant personnel working on real plant equipment, provides the learner with the best user-controlled way to acquire new skills. Full motion video is today’s cornerstone of learning!

Video-based e-Learning and CD-ROM instruction — along with gaming and simulations — are your best choices. They are the clearest path to longer-term retention —- and more productive “on the job” performance. They will increase profitability and reputation for all those visionary organizations that understand their power!

They will welcome us all into the future!

More on Tuesday – – –

— Bill Walton, Founder, ITC Learning (Tuesdays & Thursdays)