This month’s guest blog post is by Jeff Cobb, co-founder of Tagoras and co-host of the annual Leading Learning Symposium, a high impact event for leaders in the business of lifelong learning, continuing education and professional development. It was originally published on the CommPartners blog.
With the global e-learning market now valued at more than $100 billion, we are well past the point where e-learning is simply a trend. It has become a fact of life for learners of all ages, and particularly for those who are coming up through the K-12 and higher education systems – in other words, future association members and lifelong learning customers.
In spite of this shift, there is often still reluctance on the part of organizations to fully embrace e-learning and promote it as a flagship offering. In my experience, there are three key myths at the root of this reluctance and it is past time to dispel each of them once and for all.
Myth No. 1: E-learning is not as effective as classroom-based learning
There is – and has been for decades – a reliable, valid body of research that refutes this claim. As Ruth Clark and Richard Mayer put it in their classic E-learning and the Science of Instruction:
“From the plethora of media comparison research conducted over the past sixty years, we have learned that it’s not the delivery medium, but rather the instructional methods that cause learning. When the instructional methods remain essentially the same, so does the learning, no matter which medium is used to deliver instruction. [13-14]”
In other words, if appropriate methods for achieving the desired learning objectives are used, the medium (e.g., online or classroom) matters relatively little.
Perceptions of e-learning tend to suffer from the fact that it is often designed poorly, but in most cases, dramatic improvements can be made with relatively straightforward changes and without breaking the bank. I recommend Clark and Mayer’s book as the first place to look for actionable suggestions.
Myth No. 2: Creating interactivity in e-learning costs a lot
In my experience, this myth springs from a misunderstanding of what “interactivity” means. The default assumption seems to be that it involves adding animation and game-like elements to courses, but effective interaction can be achieved with much simpler methods.
Whether in live or self-paced e-learning, simply posing reflective questions or scenarios to learners is arguably a form of interaction – one that can be enhanced by having the learners respond via chat or discussion board. And simple quizzing is another. Indeed, low-stakes quizzing throughout a learning experience has been shown to be one of the most effective ways to make learning stick. Another is to have learners download worksheets they can make use of before, during or after a course experience.
Of course, if you do want to add animation or game elements to your e-learning experiences, even the cost of doing that has dropped through the floor. Many self-paced e-learning authoring tools now provide a variety of ways for adding in software-based interactive elements with no programming knowledge at all. Used judiciously in combination with some of the other options suggested above, these tools can empower organizations to create highly interactive e-learning without breaking the bank.
This one has staged something of a comeback with the rise of MOOCs and other free content, but it doesn’t take much more than observation and common sense to dispel it.
People have been paying thousands, even tens of thousands of dollars, for online degrees for decades now. The online training site Lynda.com, recently acquired by LinkedIn for $1.5 billion, was operating profitably on around $150 million dollars a year in revenue at the time of the acquisition. I routinely consult with associations that have e-learning businesses generating hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of dollars.
I could go on and on, but the point is that it has been clear for ages that people will pay for e-learning that actually delivers value. The rise of “free” content has not and will not change that. What it has changed and will continue to change is the imperative to actually deliver and prove you are delivering value with your e-learning (and all of your other educational offerings, for that matter). If you are having trouble getting people to pay for your e-learning, value is the first issue to investigate.
So there you have it: It is possible to create e-learning that is as effective as classroom-based learning, provide for interactivity at reasonable cost and assuming you do these things and communicate the results effectively, charge appropriately for it.
And that’s no myth.