It’s not about the bike

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Sorry, did I say ‘bike’? I meant technology.

Whenever you put “e” in front of something people often automatically try to make it all about technology. Examples from the online world abound – ecommerce, ebusiness, eprocurement, etc. Part of what when wrong in the dot bomb bust was that people forgot that it was actually about commerce, business and procurement and that things really weren’t “different this time”. It’s the same with elearning – many people are trying to make it about technology – Flash, rapid development tools, learning managment systems, repositories, learning objects – but it’s really still about the learning. In the past I’m sure people weren’t trying to make it all about the chalk, or all about the overhead projector (or were they?). So we need to return to the principles and objectives we are trying to achieve. It has taken a good number of years for confidence to return in many online business systems, and if we’re not careful unrealistic expectations could cause problems in utilising elearning systems and a similar bust could result.

People overestimate the impact of technology (even though I said it’s not about that) in the short term and underestimate it in the long term. We need to be using technology to support what we are trying to achieve rather than trying to fit our aims into some technlogy. Remember, if the only tool you have is a hammer, every problem looks like a nail.

With apologies to Lance Armstrong (my legal friends tell me you can’t copyright a title anyway).

Why are you doing that?

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One of the biggest problems when developing a learning programme, whether it’s a course, a course unit or module, or an individual learning object is in identifying what it is you want the learners to be able to do on successful completion. If we don’t know what it is we are trying to achieve then it’s very difficult to tell whether it has been achieved.

Aims or objectives are often expressed as learning outcomes and should not be confused with the material to be learned, or the tasks to be completed. The outcome is what we want to achieve, the tasks are what we have to do to achieve it. Therefore the focus when designing the programme (and throughout it’s delivery, assessment and evaluation) should be on the desired outcomes. All the theories of instructional design and elearning delivery are for nothing if this issue is not adressed properly.

William Horton suggests starting by identifiying your underlying goal in terms of what really matters. He suggests answering the following question in three words or less: “What is the single most important measure of success?” This approach would work within his original context of “what matters to your organisation” as well as most other settings, whether business or academically focused. Once this question has been answered, further questions can be asked about how the elearning you design will contribute to that goal.

This approach is consistent with Steven Covey’s second habit of highly effective people, which is to begin with the end in mind. If this principle is not adhered to then it is all too easy to start focusing on content and its delivery and not the reason you are developing and delivering the content in the first place.