The More Things Change, The More They Remain The Same

This year I completed 20 years in the learning and development industry. As I reflect back, some things just remain the same, especially in elearning. Even today when I tell someone that I develop elearning, I get the “Oh that’s an upcoming industry”. Even after 20 years, elearning is still an upcoming industry!!!

Elearning development continues to be riddled with the same questions over the years with no right answers. Many years ago, when I was learning Instructional Design (ID), one of the mentors said the full form of ID is actually “It Depends”. Seems like the same for elearning. “It Depends” on so many factors and even after so many years, it is still the same.
What is one hour of elearning? I explored this question a few years back on eCube blog. I don’t think there’s still any right answer for this. Even when elearning was simplistic frame-based, it was hard to agree on what is one hour of elearning. Now with a host of interactivities, social learning, gamification of elearning, it is even harder to define what is one hour of elearning. And even if we take the simple calculation of frames per hour, there are ranges based on “levels” of elearning. Hopefully we will have new questions with the advent of social learning. Can it even be measured in hours?
What are different levels of elearning? While the amount of interactivity and media treatment in elearning is used to define “levels” of elearning, you also need to keep in mind what instructional objective the elearning is trying to achieve, and the complexity of content being delivered. Still no right answers here.
How long does it take to create one hour of elearning? This question that is asked all the time but still really has no simple answer. “It Depends” on various factors. An interesting resource is a year 2009 ASTD article by Karl Kapp. Even this is not a good enough guideline and no two elearning experts will agree with these numbers.
How much does it cost? “It Depends”. But even after defining the cost affecting parameters, there are still no standard costs in the industry. In one competition analysis, we realized that for the same opportunity the customer got bids from 50K to 500K (INR) for the requirements they floated. Obviously it’s going to confuse the customers completely, especially the ones who are new at embarking on the elearning journey.
How many elearning hours will my existing ILT translate to? First, how many hours is one day of ILT? Is it 8 hours, 7 hours, 6 hours? And what’s the conversion to ILT to elearning? Is it 2:1, 1:1, 1.5:1? No consensus in the industry on that. And there continue to be wild expectations from elearning. One potential customer recently was expecting their 5 day ILT class to be converted into a couple of hours of elearning. Wouldn’t that be nice!
I have all the content. Why does it cost so much? All you are doing is putting it all together. I find this very similar to the question that photographers are asked. Why does it cost so much. All you are doing is pressing the shutter on the camera to take pictures.
Why does it take so long? Of course it can be done faster. But are the customers ready to respond with the speed at which they demand it to be done, and especially if they are attempting to do it the first time? This also will help understand why it costs so much. So are the management structures in place to approve the various stages during development? Even with rapid elearning development models, there’re always too many levels of management having views on what’s being developed and whether it works for the company or not. So while the pure elearning development can be quick, the deployment can take a long time.
How do I measure the effectiveness? The question continues to be asked over the years. While we have evolve from the simple ROI calculation (save travel costs through elearning), there are no right answers for measuring effectiveness of specific programs. Perhaps that’s not right for me to say. There are specific ways to measure effectiveness. However to implement these requires time, effort and more money. So while the customers are looking for effectiveness and ROI measures, they are unwilling to spend on actual implementation of practices to measure the effectiveness.
I need something different in elearning. Err, to be honest I still get away by impressing potential customers with elearning developed 7 to 10 years ago. The elearning content that I see is still the same as it was 15-20 years ago. So we moved from DOS and Video based learning to GUI based to Web based. But it’s pretty much the same stuff. There’re still the same learning paths or table of contents, learning objects that need to be tracked, still the same old next-previous button, still the same show-me/try-it simulations, still the same glossary button. And it’s not that these designs don’t work, they still do. And we continue our quest for finding the next best thing in elearning.

So even though a lot has changed in elearning in the last 20 years, the questions we ask pretty much remain the same.