Content? or malcontent?

by Viv on June 23, 2009

Some two years ago I was blogging about the analogy that buying e-learning by the hour is nearly as absurd as trying to buy a fitted kitchen by the cubic metre.  Would you expect to pay the same for a cubic metre of kitchen whether that cubic metre was the space next to the door or occupied with an aga?
The cost of a kitchen is driven by 1) what purpose it needs to fulfil and 2) what it contains. A kitchen that is designed and kitted out from scratch to satisfy Jamie Oliver (and his allegedly rented social circle) is always going to cost more than an existing bachelor kitchen that’s given a quick lick of paint and some new lino.
Even now, there seems a widely held tacit assumption that an hour of e-learning content is homogenous and therefore can always be measured at the same value to its users and therefore the same cost. Why is this?

Whatever the reasons for historical thinking, it is to everyone’s benefit in the future to open a more intelligent debate about the nature of the learning content itself and how this impacts cost and quality.

Designers of face to face training know that there is a relatively small number of learning points that you can fit into an hour of classroom training whilst keeping things interesting and promoting interactivity. The number of learning points that you can fit in depends on the size of the learning journey on which you’re taking participants. Here are 4 different levels of learning journey:

1. Confirming something the participant already knows
2. Prompting the participant to make a small infererence from their current knowledge
3. Presenting knowledge/ concepts/ methods that are completely new to the participant
4. Challenging current values/ beliefs to the extent that un-learning happens, followed by synthesising new values/ beliefs

You can picture that an hour of face to face time could make 100 learning points at level 1, whilst an hour may well not be enough to cover a single learning point at level 4. The same thought process is equally valid in an on-line environment.

So rather than saying “I’ve got 60 powerpoint slides to turn into e-learning, what’s the cheapest price for an hour of mid level treatment, and how much learning can I cram in?”, let’s enter the kind of world where the starting point is “I have x budget to spend on engaging my audience with this subject, what’s the most effective way to communicate my message in an engaging & interesting way, that delivers change & performance linked to business results?”

In this world, the questions you would hear people creating e-learning include:

  • “Which learning points are the ‘highest priority’ ones to communicate?”  
  • “Have we given enough ‘interaction time’ for this ‘high priority learning point’ given the level of learning journey involved?”
  • “What are the truly creative things that my e-learning provider can offer which make the high priority learning points a special experience?”

Spending your budget on 20 minutes of focused, engaging e-learning will ALWAYS be better than spending it on 60 minutes of e-learning waffle. Unless, of course, you really can’t tell the difference between the two…

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