A couple of times last year, firms with some exciting learning tools approached me to talk about the market. And in both cases, I had to advise them that there were some barriers they’d have to address. That was brought home to me in another conversation, and it makes me worry about the state of our industry.
So the first tool is based upon a really sound pedagogy that is consonant with my activity-based learning approach. The basis is giving learners assignments very much like the assignments they’ll need to accomplish in the workplace, and then resourcing them to succeed. They wanted to make it easy for others to create these better learning designs (as part of a campaign for better learning). The only problem was, you had to learn the design approach as well as the tool. Their interface wasn’t ready for prime time, but the real barrier was getting people to be able to use a new tool. I indicated some of the barriers, and they’re reconsidering (while continuing to develop content against this model as a service).
The second tool supports virtual role plays in a powerful way, having smart agents that react in authentic ways. And they, too, wanted to provide an authoring tool to create them. And again my realistic assessment of the market was that people would have trouble understanding the tool. They decided to continue to develop the experiences as a service.
Now, these are somewhat esoteric designs, though the former should be the basis of our learning experiences, and the latter would be a powerful addition to support a very common and important type of interaction. The more surprising, and disappointing, issue came up with a conversation earlier this year with a proponent of a more familiar tool.
Without being specific (I’ve not received permission to disclose the details in all of the above), this person indicated that when training a popular and fairly straightforward tool, that the biggest barrier wasn’t the underlying software model. I was expecting that too much of training was based upon rote assignments without an underlying model, and that is the case, but instead there was a more fundamental barrier: too many potential users just didn’t have sufficient computer skills! And I’m not talking about programming code, but instead fundamental understandings of files and ‘styles‘ and other core computing elements just were not present in sufficient quantities in these would-be authors. Seriously!
Now I’ve complained before that we’re not taking learning design seriously, but obviously we’re compounded by a lack of fundamental computer skills. Folks, this is elearning, not chalk learning, not chalk talk, not edoing, etc. If you struggle to add new apps on your computer, or find files, you’re not ready to be an elearning developer.
I admit that I struggle to see how folks can assume that without knowledge of design, nor knowledge of technology, that they can still be elearning designers and developers. These tools are scaffolding to allow your designs to be developed. They don’t do design, nor will they magically cover up for lacks of tech literacy.
So, let’s get realistic. Learn about learning design, and get comfortable with tech, or please, please, don’t do elearning. And I promise not to do music, architecture, finance, and everything else I’m not qualified to. Fair enough?