• E-learning ain’t what it used to be

    Posted by Admin in Artist News on January 21, 2018

    The interactive self-study lesson that we commonly refer to as an e-learning module has a very long history, going back to the late 1970s and the very first micro-computers. For close to forty years we have witnessed little change in the way these modules are designed, developed and displayed, even though the delivery channel has shifted from floppy disk to videodisc, from CD-ROM to the web browser. That is until now.

    Let’s just remind ourselves of the traditional approach. E-learning modules have typically been designed according to a slide-show metaphor, with a fixed size window displaying a succession of frames containing multimedia elements and interactions. The learner makes progress through these frames in simple sequence or as a result of conditional branching depending on their responses to questions. The modules are developed using an ‘authoring tool’ that sits on the developer’s computer and then delivered in finished form from some portable medium, such as a disk, or from an online platform such as a learning management system.

    So how did the slide show metaphor originate? I suppose for anyone working in learning media prior to computers, then fixed size windows were the norm, whether we were talking pages in a book, overhead and 35mm transparencies, or video frames. E-learning was simply more of the same, with the extra sparkle of interactivity to provide the potential for non-linear progress through the frames. Similarly, the use of desktop tools to develop e-learning would have been an extension of traditional practice as would the convention of delivering a finished product to an LMS. Business as usual.

    Which sort of made sense before the World Wide Web. Web pages, as we all know, do not have fixed widths or heights. They are as wide as the user’s browser window (which typically depends on the device being used) and as long as is necessary – the user simply keeps scrolling down until the bottom of the page. This highly flexible approach has worked so brilliantly that now more than three billion people around the world navigate information in this way with ease. Finally, 25 years after Sir Tim Berners Lee launched the World Wide Web, the e-learning community has woken up to this reality. People want to access learning materials in the same flexible ways in which they access all other online information.

    They would also like their learning materials to display a little intelligence, just like Amazon, Google, Facebook and all their other favourite sites – and by this they mean that they want to be recognised as an individual. Just about every page of every major web site is composed on the fly in response to user interaction, not prepared in advance in a one-size-fits-all fashion. That’s how you get recommendations, notifications, help and advice, gamification, discussions and all those other useful things. So why are e-learning modules zipped up into a package and uploaded to an LMS in the same way we might have sent a book off to be printed hundreds of years ago. All this makes no sense in an online world.

    Which brings us to the way that the modules are created in the first place. No web site is developed offline using a desktop application any more. Yes, that’s right, none. And that’s because web sites need to be updated at a moment’s notice; they are also the work of teams of people who need to work together collaboratively from remote locations. You can only do that online. The e-learning world has to think similarly. Looking forward, the only sensible way to develop e-learning modules is online, not with desktop tools like Storyline, Captivate and Lectora but with new tools, some from the same vendors and some from unexpected new sources.

    Yes, e-learning is finally catching up with the World Wide Web. The self-study materials of the future will be responsive to the capabilities of different devices, more often than not they will scroll rather than flip from frame to frame, they will be created online and delivered dynamically to ensure an individualised experience. All of this is already happening, of course, but 2018 might finally see us kiss goodbye to the slide-show metaphor once and for all.

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