-4. How critical is leading-edge technology to e-learning?

- Using leading-edge technology is important but not critical.

- The bottom line is the soundness of the instructional design. Students can learn from a simple presentation if it's instructionally sound. Students don't learn from a jazzy-looking multimedia experience if it's NOT instructionally sound.

Tell Me More

Using leading-edge technology is important but not critical. Sometimes it's only eye candy. Let me put it this way: Some of today's movies have spectacular special effects. But the best movies are not always the ones that use the most special effects. A good film is built first and foremost on the story. If the special effects support the story, then they can magnify the quality of a film. But if the special effects work against the story, or if they are just added on as extras, they will reduce the quality of the film. In the same way that it's the story for film, it's the instructional design for e-learning that is important.

With a strong instruction design, you can make an e-mail-based correspondence course work effectively (I know this for a fact because I've done it.) With a weak instructional design, you will be hard-pressed to make the jazziest virtual classroom work effectively.

Furthermore, in e-learning and in everything else, fancier things usually cost more than simple things. Yet, sometimes you do in fact need the fancier thing. In Chapters 6 and 7, you'll see that there are a number of different styles and building blocks for e-learning. Some of them are plain and simple. And some of them are pretty fancy technologically. But just because it's fancier doesn't always mean it'll get you better instructional impact.

Let me say it again. The bottom line is the soundness of the instructional design.

- Students can learn from a simple presentation if it's instructionally sound.

- Students don't learn from a jazzy-looking multimedia event if it's NOT instructionally sound.

-5. Do you need to scrap your classroom training?

- No. Use what you have in the short term.

- You can blend together classroom and e-learning in the medium term, and move exclusively to an e-learning approach in the long term.

Tell Me More

Classroom learning does not conflict with e-learning. They are really complementary approaches. One is not a bad approach with the other being a good approach.

If you have a lot of classroom courses, keep them. You don't need to revamp all your courses. Keep delivering classroom courses as long as they make business sense for you.

In other words, use up what you have. When your inventory is depleted, you can move to the new e-learning format.

-6. How will your employees respond to e-learning?

- E-learning will be a "different experience" for many of your employees. It will feel different. Some people enjoy trying things that feel different. Others don't.

- You will have to deal with e-learning challenges such as unfamiliarity, lack of self-motivation, lack of time, and the perception that it's contrary to company culture.

Tell Me More

Perhaps the most important thing to realize about e-learning is that it feels different to the student from traditional face-to-face learning experiences.

I think you'll best conceptualize the e-learning challenges if you think in terms of the differences between holding a face-to-face meeting in a conference room and holding a meeting where everyone is connected by telephone. The problems are similar— because people act different when they are face-to-face and when they aren't.

Many students thrive in an e-learning environment, but not all of them do. Student challenges include the following:

- Unfamiliarity. E-learning is new to many employees, and some will find it hard to adjust to the new learning situation. We sometimes forget how long it takes to get familiar with any new technology. Look at the blinking 12:00 on the VCR display in many people's homes to understand how widespread even small technology barriers really can be.

- Lack of self-motivation. Students only get out of education what they put into it. Remember that with e-learning, students must take more responsibility for learning the material. Not everyone is able to do that. Some people find it hard to stay motivated while they're learning away from a classroom. Also, the rule of thumb is that even the most highly motivated e-learning student starts to lose interest after about two weeks of calendar time, regardless of how many hours a day the class meets.

- Lack of time. Some students learn faster or slower than others. E-learning in a self-paced form can let students learn at their own pace. Training can be spread out over a period of days or weeks, a little bit each day. But all students need time to spend on the learning sessions, even if they are at their desk at work; they can't do the learning tasks and still do their regular work at the same time. Or, in some companies, employees might be expected to do their e-learning at home, before work, or after work instead of on work time.

- Feelings of isolation. The students can feel isolated. The familiar physical environment of the classroom, including the immediate presence of the teacher and other students, is missing. The environment is ingrained in some people as part of the way they learn—and some people will find it hard to learn in a different environment. (Like falling asleep on your back after years of falling asleep on your stomach.)

- Feelings of going against company culture. "Let me interrupt you for just a few minutes about an urgent work problem" says the manager while the employee is trying to take an e-learning course at her desk. Other employees tell you that if the training were really important, they'd send you away to class.

What this comes down to is that you have to go to extra lengths to support the students taking e-learning courses if you want your e-learning program to be a success. Can you help motivate and encourage them in positive ways? Can you help remove distractions and help make sure they have the time to do the e-learning coursework?

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