While I agree vehemently with most of a post by Lars Hyland, he said one thing I slightly disagree with, and I want to elaborate on it. He was disagreeing with “buying rapid development tools to bash out ill formed ‘e-learning’ to an audience that will not only be unimpressed but also none the wiser – or more productive”, a point I want to nuance. I agree with not using rapid elearning to create courses for novices, but there is a role for bashing out courses for another audience, the practitioner. And there’s something deeper here to tease out.
I want to bring up John Carroll’s minimalist instruction, and highly recommend it to you. He focused on a) meaningful tasks, b) active learning quickly, c) including error recogition & recovery, and d) making learning activities self-contained (a lot like games, actually). In The Nurnberg Funnel, he documented how this design led to 25 cards, 1 per learning goal, that beat a 94 page traditionally designed manual hands-down in outcomes.
Another way to think about it is something Jim Spohrer mentioned to me once. Now, Jim’s been an Apple Fellow, and is leading research at IBM’s Almaden Research Center. He really cares and likes to help people, but he’s very busy. So he adopted a ‘least assistance’ principle, where he would ask himself what’s the least he can do to get this person going, because there was more to do and more people to help than he was able to keep up with. And I think it is a useful way to think about supporting learning.
This sounds a lot like performance support, and that’s definitely a mind-set we need to adopt. When Harold Jarche and Jay Cross talk about the death of the training department, they’re talking about not focusing on courses, and instead taking a broader, performance perspective. Obviously, we want to talk about portals of resources, but we also need to recognize that there are formal learning situations that don’t require the full formality.
We develop full courses to incorporate motivation, practice, all the things non-self-directed learners need. But there are times when we need to provide new information and skills to self-directed learners. When we’re talking to practitioners who are good at their job, know what they’re doing and why, and know that they need to know this information and how they’ll apply it, we can strip away a lot of the window dressing. We can just provide support to a SME so that their talk presents the relevant bits in a streamlined and effective way, and let them loose. That, to me, is the role of rapid elearning.
It’s not for novices, but it’s effective, and more efficient. In this economic climate, we don’t have the luxury of full development of courses for every need. Moreover, in any climate, we shouldn’t give people what they don’t need, instead we need to focus on what the ‘least assistance’ we can give them is.
In many cases, the least assistance we can give is self-help, which is why I believe social learning tools are one of the best investments that can be made. The answer may well be ‘out there’, and rather than for learning designers to try to track it down and capture it, the learner can send out the need and there’s a good chance an answer will come back! There’s a lot to making such an environment work; it’s not the case that ‘if you build it, they will learn’, but it’s still going to fill a sweet spot in the performance ecosystem that may not be being hit as of now.
Don’t look for everything you can do in one situation, unless you’re flush with too much time and resources (in which case, watch out!), instead look for the least you can do that will get the job done so you can do more for everybody. It’s likely that’s more to their taste, anyway. And that’s enough from me on that!