Before you dive into this book to seek out the specific information you’re looking for, I’d like to take the chance to correct what I believe to be the greatest cause of confusion about e-learning and one of the greatest obstacles to its success. Contrary to what I’ve been told by
on countless occasions, e-learning is not just a tool, in fact it isn’t a tool at all (as they say in Ireland). What e-learning is, is a rather inadequate
to describe a channel, a channel of communication through which learning can take place. Like face-to-face communication. Like print. Like the telephone. Like TV and audio systems.
Does this matter or am I losing all sense of proportion? Well, yes it does and no I don’t think so. It matters because if you think of e-learning as a tool then you are understating its potential and overstating its significance. Let’s take the understating argument first. Before e-learning, trainers had at their disposal a manageable collection of long-established delivery tools, including workshops,
, on-job instruction, books, workbooks, individual and
assignments and video; along with a variety of ways of providing ongoing support, through face-to-face coaching, by post or telephone. E-learning almost doubles the range of offerings. Just think, using computers and networks you can deliver interactive self-study materials, virtual classrooms, streaming audio and video, chat rooms, discussion forums and all sorts of online materials (not least through that greatest e-learning resource of all time, the World Wide Web). You also have more support options, using email and instant messaging. Impressive, huh? So, e-learning isn’t a tool, it’s a channel through which you can access a whole range of tools.
E-learning utilises computers and computer networks as an additional and complementary channel of communication; connecting learners with learning media, with other people (fellow learners, sources, facilitators), with data (about learning, about media, about people) and with processing power.
What does this mean for trainers? It means that you can’t dismiss e-learning as just another tool; you have to take each of the tools in
to see how useful they might be in meeting your training needs
and effectively. It also means that the task of media selection – choosing the
you will apply to a given training problem – just got a whole lot more complicated. Because now you have twenty options to consider, not ten. And because if you don’t consider all twenty, you could be missing an opportunity to make your training better, faster or cheaper.
So, why, at the same time, are we in danger of overstating the significance of e-learning? Well, because it is just a communication channel, a rather sophisticated channel perhaps, but just a channel nonetheless. As a channel, it provides us with three forms of output – a screen,
or headphones, and a printer. This is a useful combination, because at its best, it enables a computer to deliver a multimedia experience to match any previous technology. On the other hand it delivers nothing new – sitting in front of the TV while reading a book gives you the same experience. But then because this channel has input devices – keyboards, mice, microphones, webcams,
and the rest – it has interactive capabilities; it allows learners to interact with materials, with other learners, with expert sources and facilitators. True, we can do all this already using existing channels, but now we can do it at a distance and at very low cost. Finally, this channel has one other important characteristic and that’s processing power – not as subtle as that of a human being but a whole load faster. This power enables us to create individualised self-study learning experiences, to deliver simulations and
Where does that leave us? With a highly versatile new channel that enables us to deliver a wide range of new tools for learning. If we are anxious about this, we shouldn’t be. So far, no new channel has
an existing one. Did print see off face-to-face communication? Did the telephone threaten the careers of postmen? Did TV ruin Hollywood? True, in each of these cases some adjustment was necessary, but all those channels seem to be
to us; they all add something unique to our lives. E-learning is no different: computers and the networks that connect them
another channel for trainers to
those we’ve grown to know and love; a channel that we’re only just beginning to understand and exploit; a channel that’s here to stay.