Regular readers of this blog will be reminded that 40% of the nation’s workforce does not assimilate anything written above a 4th grade reading level and that one-third of our graduating high school seniors are unable to form opinions from what they read.

Obviously, for a very large population, reading is not the best answer for information transferal or for the basis of forming individual opinion.

Consequently, our training challenges have grown. The training choices have increased. And the trade-offs involving instructional design, production values, plus cost and efficiency issues have complicated the entire process for the corporate trainer.

However, the heart of the matter has not changed. Learning values have always been balanced against corporate issues, involving both money and efficiencies.

Historically, the best training was one-on-one hands-on training that was standard procedure in American industry throughout the first three quarters of the twentieth century. Here you had the real thing. Here you had an instructor (usually, “ol’ Charlie”) who knew how to maintain and operate that piece of equipment you were trying to learn.

Why did it go away? Cost. Much too expensive. And, it was also the least efficient method for training. Plus, in almost every case, “ol’ Charlie” didn’t do every task in ways that were either the safest or the most efficient. His flaws were passed on to the next generation of maintenance technicians.

However, it’s the evolution which occurred in technology-delivered learning that interests us.

First came the videos. Less expensive and somewhat more efficient than one-on-one instruction. Videos, however, demanded a classroom and an instructor (an expensive undertaking as employees were taken off-line to gather in a single place). The only interactivity took place between instructor and students. The video was linear.

Interactive Laser Videodisc followed videotape and with that advance we entered the world of individualized user-controlled instruction. In addition, Interactive Laser Videodisc allowed the designer to utilize moving pictures and branching designs for instructional simulation.

It died because it was analog (the world was rapidly moving toward digital) and the equipment was expensive and not very portable. A Learning Center generally housed the Laserdisc playback equipment, which meant cost and efficiency issues were still problems. Pulling people off-line and having facilitators, etc. is still not a very efficient way to train.

CD-ROM, a transitional technology, replaced Videodisc and, because we were in the earlier limited days of digital, most good branching design for learning went away. CD-ROM-delivery was a step above videotape for its user-controlled interactivity but a big step below the power of individualized videodisc learning design.

Moreover, we had, once more, a training-delivery system that had efficiency limitations. One either had to buy a zillion copies in order to distribute them to all involved or continue with the Learning Center concept. Again, since labor costs are always your single biggest training expenditure, we had a relatively inefficient system — plus one that did not have the learning-value compensations of “one-on-one by ol’ Charlie” instruction or the complete user controlled (individually tailored) instruction offered by Interactive Laser Videodisc.

Currently, we have entered the e-Learning era. At last we have a system for training that is truly available 24×7 — available almost anywhere to almost anyone with a connection. It is the most efficient and cost-effective training methodology yet conceived.

While the technology is extremely promising, its current practice is weak. Weak because the technology has gotten into the wrong hands. Too many converted PowerPoint presentations (relying on the written word as the primary means of communication) and re-purposed written procedures are garbaging up the medium.

Yet, it’s certainly clear that, from an efficiency and cost point-of-view, e-Learning is capable of revolutionizing training. It’s hard to beat “just in time;” “always available to anyone;” and “lower cost.” In addition, e-Learning courseware is always instantaneously updateable, customizable, and consistent.

The instructional power of e-Learning can be realized — but, only when the designers of the courseware embrace full motion video and optional word-for-word audio as the necessary tools for effective communication. Only then will the promise of better learning through technology be finally achieved.

More on Thursday – – –

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