eLearning consists of a suite of learning methods that are enabled by combining technology with content in order to provide a rich learning experience to an individual.
Since the early ages of human progress, technology has been extensively leveraged for delivering content to learners: right from development of paper which allowed oral learning to be converted to written words that could then be passed on from one generation to other; development of a printing press that allowed large scale production of written content; mechanisation of the press to scale production of printed content; electronic devices such as radio, television and, later, computers that enabled more and more content to be delivered in far more engaging manner.
Digitisation technologies developed in the early 70s allowed mixing of multiple modes of content – text, audio, visuals, and animation to make content richer and easy to communicate/comprehend. Compression technologies allowed this multi-model content to be delivered across variety of devices and channels. Today, large scale storage, high speed networks, super-fast processors and high resolution interfaces has made digitised content omni-present, on-demand and some what ostentatious.
To a large extent human development can be attributed to continuous learning adopted by homo sapiens. This need was fulﬁlled over ages by all the progress mentioned above. However, during all this the learning method (or pedagogy as it is referred to amongst academicians) has predominantly been driven by a teacher. He (the teacher) was, most often, more informed and experienced in communicating with the learners so as to help them make sense of a world around them. This teaching method was based on a common requirement across a large group of people with its inherent diversity of comprehension and assimilation skills. As a consequence, some learners were unable to satisfy their need for enhanced inputs or higher order concepts. Ironically, the weaker learners were also not satisﬁed since the same inputs were unable to meet their requirements of pace or depth. However, since a teacher had to satisfy a larger population the breadth, pace and depth of content was pegged at an average learner. This lacunae was mostly ﬁlled by additional personal efforts on the part of learners from two extremes mentioned earlier. This was an accepted practice at institutions of middle and higher education, and offered workable outcomes.
However, when it came to vocational training, particularly with an intention to enhance proﬁciency of a worker, the need to focus on individual learner was critical since it had a direct impact on the results delivered by an individual. This resulted in exploration of several mechanisms to offer learner oriented content. One such mechanism was identifying common needs of several learners and creating content or delivery or both especially for them. Another was to provide companions or “buddies” on the job who would be responsible for providing personalised inputs as relevant. A third method has been to let a learner select a third-party provider who could offer inputs as pertinent to this learner. These have been the most prevalent methods of providing customised / personalised learning. However, even these have their own shortcomings. The topmost being the pace of learning. As a learner one could not set the pace of one’s learning and therefore had to either work hard to catch up with the rest or be bored. Another challenge was availability of content as and when it was required to for a speciﬁc application. A third concern was contemporariness of content to keep pace with developments in a given body of knowledge.
eLearning was conceptualised as a solution to meet the above mentioned expectations of a learner. It offered personalised (individualised), self-paced, highly engaging content delivered conveniently on multiple interfaces (mobile, desktop, tablets, TV etc) enabling a learner to consume this content as and when they wanted. The promise of eLearning was greatly exciting for all stake-holders. The early eLearning content was essentially derived from stock content taken from then prevalent learning methods, but digitised and with an added control of stop-start-play-repeat. It essentially worked on a need to control pace of content delivery. The innovators and early adopters found great value in it and therefore created a positive word-of-mouth inﬂuence on learners constituting the early majority. These group of learners found incremental value in early eLearning content, but were not completely satisﬁed with its ability to address the very challenges that led to its creation. Amongst the many concerns they had was the complete lack of compassion for the learner and the impersonal delivery of content. The common comment was “It feels very mechanical to learn like this!” Or “Doesn’t allow me to ask questions that would enhance my understanding.” This was quite a revelation. Something surely was not right, but eLearning per se had begun to take root. What was required was a better understanding of how to live up to the inherent promises of eLearning.
Several studies on effectiveness of eLearning solutions indicated that the feedback 3456 amongst learners (as mentioned above) was consistent and did not vary by the quality, depth or breadth of content. It was then identiﬁed that while “self-paced” was a “necessary” requirement, it was not “sufﬁcient.” Several research hours were spent in understanding what would contribute to the “sufﬁciency” criteria.
One of the many causes that research , revealed was “learner inertia.” eLearning, because 78 it was meant to provide “self-pace” expected the learner to keep coming back to the content and continue from where she left it. This required discipline and diligence on learner’s part which was unfortunately not predictable or consistent. Research revealed 9 while learners were happy to learn on their own, they would quit the moment a hurdle was faced – a concept not understand, a context not explained, or an application not easily fathomed. They would look for hand-holding at that moment but didn’t ﬁnd it. Education experts explored several new pedagogies to create alternatives for this hurdle
Following were some of the models that emerged:
- Live Streaming – a real person delivering to a real audience telecast to a wider group of people through internet and satellite transmission;
- Live Virtual Classroom – an internet based classroom where everyone- teacher and learner, join this classroom and a session is delivered; Tutor-led eLearning – where a teacher records a real session to explain content supported by digitised content shared through various eLearning delivery mechanisms.
- Blended Learning – where eLearning content is combined with a facilitator-led session, to provide enhanced scope for detailing,
- And presently the most widely used “Massively Open Online Courses (MOOCs),” where a recorded session delivered by an expert teacher is streamed to a virtual classroom of participants who simultaneously join this class from across geographies. While the facilitator is not present in real time, the participants are and, therefore, have an option to interact with each other. Assignments and tutorials, led by the facilitator, provide the impetus to keep continuous engagement.
This was the emergence of the new era of eLearning. As learners became more adept at using above mentioned methods, and as their need for “Just-In-Time” learning went up, their expectations also went up . Learners were unwilling to be tied to their workstations 13 or laptops to consume their content. With tablets and mobile devices become increasingly capable, the demand for “content-on-the-go” has increased. Further, to provide for restricted screen sizes, the overall content-mix is required to be redeﬁned.
The current demand from learning is content adapted to “attention-span” of the learners. Increasingly, the various social channels of engagement have reduced the consumption quantum per. “Bite-sized,” “Mobi-sodes,” “Nuggests-of-Wisdom” are the new norm in eLearning. Moreover text is slowly being replaced with visuals / animations / audio. Gamiﬁcation is another buzzword in eLearning. It essentially describes the creation of a competitive atmosphere amongst people consuming eLearning by offering them virtual or social credits, leaderboards to check competition, peer-recognition labels (stars, hierarchy of expertise, inﬂuence-levels etc.), real privileges on achievement of milestones, recognitions, rewards and the works
A former colleague in an article he wrote while at the Tata Management Training Centre, 14 Pune, argues that organisations endeavouring eLearning must pay attention to the following in order to make their eLearning journey relevant and deliver return on investment:
• Deﬁning short and long-term objectives for eLearning
• Identifying learner proﬁles and their learning styles
• Ascertaining and developing eLearning worthy content
• Adaptive delivery mechanisms for eLearning
• Evaluation and continuous enhancements
Que Sera.. Sera
As the song goes “… whatever will be.. will be” applies to eLearning too. With new technologies such as Artiﬁcial Intelligence (AI) and Machine Learning (ML) , Natural 15 Language Processing (NLP), Sentiment Analysis and Cognitive Computing, we might have situations similar to the very popular movie “The Matrix” where the hero is able to learn to ﬂy a helicopter just by directly downloading a program to his brain. While this might sound far-fetched so was ﬂying once upon a time, but look how far we have come. Happy to hear from you what you think “…will be?”
The author is a freelance consultant in the area of technology, innovation and leadership and regularly facilitates workshops for middle and senior management on the topics of Innovation Culture, TRIZ, Design Thinking, Innovation Tools and Methods, Business Simulation based sessions for Managerial Performance enhancement etc. He can be reached on firstname.lastname@example.org. LinkedIn: http://in.linkedin.com/in/akolhatkar
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