Rules of engagement

Don’t let a bad experience with e-learning put you off, says Kenneth Fee.
Instead, take the time re-evaluate its benefits

How often do we hear the claim "e-learning doesn’t suit my learning
style". Yet, if we understand e-learning fully, this claim makes no more
sense than saying we don’t like to read books.

If a trainee given a new product manual protests they don’t
like reading books, we wouldn’t regard that as a valid objection. Employers
have the right to expect learners to make use of whatever resources are
available. The corollary is that learners have the right to expect learning
resources to be of the highest quality.

It’s true, too, that some early implementations of e-learning
lacked imagination. Simply providing text with illustrations on-screen doesn’t
usually make for a good learning experience. That’s just e-reading.

But this is no longer an accurate characterisation of
e-learning. Increasingly, we are finding imaginative applications offering
learners opportunities they never had before, and in new and exciting ways.

A lot of e-learning content now frequently includes clever
graphics, animation, games and simulations. Video is spoilt for many users by
bandwidth problems, but corporate schemes still find ways to distribute video,
which remains a powerful tool – and the bandwidth issues are bound to be
resolved soon. Audio is more commonplace, and represents less of a bandwidth
concern. New software applications mean online assessment is becoming
increasingly sophisticated, extending even to the capacity to mark free text.
Digitally animated characters act as avatars, and panoramic imaging offers
virtual learning environments. E-learning is becoming a highly interactive, as
opposed to just a passive, experience.

E-learning offers unique and unprecedented ways for people to
communicate. Learners in virtual classroom can access their personal records
and references while taking part in an online discussion. Learners can share
ideas via audio, text and images. Tutorials can take place regardless of the
locations of the various participants.

Some of this may sound unlike any experience of e-learning the
reader has had. The potential for using computer networks to enhance learning
is far from exhausted. One of most exciting aspects of e-learning is that we
have yet to see anything like its full potential. The challenge for learners is
to engage with this now, and not be a Luddite.

Just as the business hype has died down, to be replaced by
common-sense assessments of the real benefits, so learners too need to
re-evaluate the advantages of e-learning for them. If you’ve had a bad
experience of e-learning,  forget about
it, and try again. I think you’ll be pleasantly surprised.

Kenneth Fee is chief executive of
the e-Learning Alliance, www.elearningalliance.org

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