There are three key areas practitioners measure when they discuss
learning solutions: time, cost, and quality. Indeed, each supplier
website claims to have a solution that saves time, reduces costs,
and increases quality. But from the practitioner's perspective,
tools are only part of the solution. For example, you can buy the
fastest car, but it's only a dangerous toy if you don't drive
In response to the article, Rapid E-Learning Grows Up, Bob Duthie
of Nashville-based Duthie Associates wrote "I am yet to be
convinced that one person can possess all the skills it takes to
produce the multimedia content that is required." And that, Bob,
is exactly the rub.
Discovering opportunities, uncovering problems
At the heart of the rapid e-learning problem, there is a training
issue. Many people fail to understand the potential of the tools.
And even when opportunities are clearly identified, the ability to
capitalize on them may be misaligned with the developer's own
competencies. Duthie cites the desktop publishing metaphor, when
desktop publishing tools hit the scene, people were able to produce
"terrible looking documents because they didn't know principles of
good graphic design and visual communication."
Jennifer DeVries agrees. "It's like web publishing. You can design
a bad web page just as easily as you can hire someone to design a
really good one." She adds, "If you look at the web as a whole,
probably 50 percent of the websites are poorly done. I would say
that the rapid e-learning field would probably be very similar. I
think one of the keys to making this work is to help people
understand the value that a professional brings, just as we
understand the value that a web professional brings to a
When workplace learning and performance professionals develop
instruction, there are perhaps even more opportunities for problems
than there are in flat content, such as print or static web pages.
In addition to manipulating fonts, colors, audio, video, graphics,
and photos, learning designers must consider sequencing, cognitive
load, assessments, the value of learning metrics, compliance, and a
myriad of other issues.
But learning designers should keep our role in perspective. What
we"re really doing is facilitating the opportunity for the learner
to learn. More important, learners will, despite our greatest
efforts, learn what they need to know to do their job anyway,
because they want to succeed, perform, survive, and get paid. As
Dr. Malcolm Knowles taught, adults arrive as motivated learners.
According to DeVries, "A lot of times, as professional
instructional designers, we may over-engineer. We insist on getting
to that practical application level, yet the guy who wins just gets
the content out because, in some cases, that's all a company wants.
And the quicker it can get out, the happier they are. If the
content is too late and it's irrelevant, it doesn't matter."
The SME problem
When Bersin & Associates actively promoted the concept of
rapid e-learning in 2004, it stated that the key to using
rapid e-learning tools effectively was to develop instructionally
sound templates for subject matter experts to quickly author
content. At that time, the standard model for rapid e-learning
focused on the lowest common denominator: promoting rapid
e-learning for informational delta training. However, rapid
e-learning is being used currently to produce new hire orientation,
competency training, dynamically branching skills assessments, and
Because of the extended training areas, it's simply not reasonable
to expect SMEs who aren't trained in both the tools and
instructional strategy to leverage rapid e-learning for these types
of solutions. In addition SMEs may not have the time to develop
learning content, even if they have the competency. Other problems
may also emerge:
- SMEs may think that every learner needs to understand the material as well as they do.
- SMEs may be resistant to having others involved because they believe they know how to solve learning problems.
- SMEs may be unwilling participants in sharing their expertise.
If SMEs who lack a strong background in instructional design or
information sequencing are going to produce learning content, it's
important to set them up for success. Therefore, because many agree
that effective training is based on internal processes, standards,
and approaches, be sure to establish quality standards and document
how to achieve those when using a rapid e-learning tool.
In addition, make certain someone in the organization (or an
outsourced partner) is available to provide guidance and tips to
help them overcome hurdles. Explain to SMEs that not everything
they know is required for most learners. Let SMEs know that they
need to produce solutions that sequence content with practice
lessons, exercises, and opportunities for trial runs that result in
measurable outcomes aligned. SMEs without a background in
instructional design or information development may need help to
create this sort of experience.
Increasingly, learning architects tasked with the challenge of
bringing SMEs onboard are using frameworks to guide the selection
and successful adoption of rapid e-learning strategies. Frameworks
encompass more than basic templates, they are the sum of the tools,
templates, sequences, and approaches all wrapped up together and
documented in a roadmap. Each framework is selected, and in some
cases modified or enhanced based on the particular learning problem
being addressed or the ogroup tasked with resolving the problem.
The stakeholder problem
Traditional e-learning and rapid e-learning share the same Achilles
heel that interferes with and facilitates the resolution of nearly
every business problem: people. To be exact: Every stakeholder has
the opportunity to short circuit success. With rapid e-learning,
however, there are opportunities to safeguard against stakeholder
Allen Interactions uses a rapid prototyping process to help
establish expectations and solidify stakeholder buy-in early on.
According to published accounts, Allen insists that the highest
level problem owner attends the initial prototyping session. While
it can be difficult to secure executive attendance at a prototyping
session, you will find greater success if stakeholders with
decision-level authority help sketch out ideas. If your
interactions aren't overly complex, this can be done virtually
through an online conference. In fact, some organizations may
prefer conducting these sessions virtually so that various team
members can focus on different aspects of the solution, driving
rapid results during the working session.
If you're not able to get high-level stakeholders involved in the
prototyping session, try to schedule a follow-up demo session with
them before you spend time implementing a final solution. As
materials produced with rapid e-learning tools become more complex,
the cost of rework escalates, just as it does for any project.
Getting buy-in early can provide you with the project champion
you'll need regardless of the scope of your project. More
importantly, it sets expectations for deliverables.
Another aspect of the Allen approach is insisting that prototypes
be disposable. This keeps developers focused on producing
conceptual solution mock-ups. Occasionally, what developers produce
as a rapid e-learning prototype is ideal and there's no point in
tossing it, but it's better to enter the process with the focus on
producing effective mock-ups rather than get mired in the details.
Don't discount the use of rapid e-learning as the prototyping
environment. A well-planned graphics library can offer large
flexibility in illustrating solution concepts, and rapid e-learning
tools can supply enough horsepower for designers to produce
innovative mock-ups that developers can later implement on more
extensive authoring platform.
Another key benefit is that producing a rapid prototype lets you
better scope the appropriate solution through a low-cost,
collaborative approach before committing major funds. According to
Allen, "If you're spending 60 percent of what you need to spend for
an effective solution, you're going to waste almost 100 percent of
that 60 percent because it isn't going to work." You need to plan
projects to meet the need; not simply match them to an arbitrary
budget. Rapid e-learning as a prototyping platform can help you
brainstorm and come to agreement on what that budget should be.
Closing the gap
So, how do workplace learning and performance professionals shorten
the time-to-learner, drive down the cost, and improve the quality
of learning solutions? There is no magic pill, but in the context
of rapid e-learning, there are some fine options.
- We can leverage frameworks to situate standards, processes, and templates that are used in the context of specific toolsets to solve precise learning problems. This requires a disciplined approach over time.
- We can work as teams, each focusing on our own areas of expertise, while leveraging tools to shorten timeframes and facilitate communication of ideas and transfer of knowledge. This approach is successful when key stakeholders are supportive.
- We can augment traditional approaches by using rapid e-learning tools as powerful design tools, making designers more capable of expressing ideas to developers and stakeholders.
- We can ensure proper training and support for those responsible for using rapid e-learning tools to develop learning experiences.