At conferences and expos, in leading publications, and during conversations, the e-learning consumer gets bombarded with the latest catch phrases and trends. Unfortunately, this information can include plenty of misinformation.
As an e-learning practitioner that services a wide array of interests and projects, I am often stunned that some of the industry’s leading misconceptions continue to be propagated with little intervention from knowledgeable and capable professionals. Both vendors and consumers can do more to serve one another; vendors need to issue responsible marketing and consumers need to educate themselves about what they hear and see.
Here are a few of the top misconceptions circulating the e-learning industry.
The SCORM-compliant learning content management systems (LCMS)
It’s important to be clear about what the term “compliance” actually means rather than how it is typically used. The current ADL organization can certify two things for SCORM compliance: learning management systems (LMS) and content packages. They do not certify vendors (only their products), nor do they certify LCMSs.
So what then do vendors mean when they market their LCMS platform as SCORM-compliant? Most vendors who claim that their LCMS system is SCORM- compliant fall into two categories: 1) the developer of the LCMS system has certified content with the ADL that was created using their tool, and 2) the developer of the LCMS system has incorporated some elements of SCORM standards into its content packages but may not comply with everything. In either case, compliance is a misleading term because what they are selling cannot technically be certified as such.
Others would argue that an LCMS system that is capable of outputting a SCORM package should be considered a SCORM-compliant system. However, according to the ADL website, there is no particular classification called SCORM-compliant systems. There are SCORM adopters and there are certified products.
To verify whether a system or content package is SCORM-certified, go to www.adlnet.gov. Currently, it is the sole organization that can certify products.
Merged LMS and LCMS are always a better solution
To be sure, there are quality systems on the market that integrate both authoring capabilities and tracking capabilities. However, some merged systems require content authored in the system remain within the system to work. Frequently, the integrated system uses a proprietary means of tracking. As a result, content becomes locked in a proprietary format that only the integrated tool can modify.
This solution might be good for short-term ease of use, but the long-term financial impact to an organization who wants to move content to a new system, or change how they track courses can be significant, especially if time and effort went into creating content within the system to begin with.
A content management system is an LMS
A content management system (CMS) is not an LMS. I ‘m often asked how learners access content that is in an LCMS. Sometimes the answer is that they won’t be able to. A CMS or LCMS is where content authors (not consumers) organize and store content for later use or reuse. It is a library of content that provides tools and applications that help organizations store information so that it can be bundled or packaged at a later time in a variety of ways.
An LMS manages the learning for students and administrators. It is where the finished learning products are stored and where a worker accesses the learning. An LMS will provide tools and applications that help administer and track learning within an organization.
Instructional designers are courseware developers
More and more, I see the synonymous use of the terms instructional designers and courseware developers. A quick scan of Monster.com’s database of resumes confirms this as more developers (with programming backgrounds) apply for instructional design jobs, and instructional designers touting their programming skills with various applications apply for courseware developer jobs.
While there is nothing wrong with people who have the sort of diverse background that enables them to do one job or the other, to use the terms interchangeably is a mistake. Moreover, to expect that developers in an e-learning company also be capable of instructional design work and instructional designers be courseware developers devalues the strengths each of those roles bring to the production process.
Customizable templates are the same as customized courseware
With the industry’s obsession over buying the right tools and making the production process faster and easier, a breed of custom courseware developers have emerged that claim to be capable of wielding the latest and greatest course-building tools.
In almost all cases, what makes the custom developer so fast—and the tool easy and quick to use--is a database of customizable templates. Often, customized courseware refers to the ability to add logos, change colors, and so forth. The exercise types and functionality in the template environment are static. In essence, you may still be putting a square peg in a round hole.
Do not confuse this sort of customization with organizations who build courses on spec. These organizations will build exercises and applications that speak to a defined set of objectives and requirements. The price difference between the two types of custom work is significant. However, both products suit different needs and should never be compared against one another. Let the requirements of your project dictate what sort and level of customization you need.
Engaging equals effective
As an industry we must admit that although we have spent a lot time talking about interactive courseware and engaging e-learning, the result has typically been glorified page turners that include some interesting animations and true/false or multiple-choice questions.
The term “engaging” remains elusive. When defining engagement, most build on the idea of interactivity, which also is frequently misunderstood by our industry. The term “interactivity” means the ability to act on one another, and to influence one another. In other words, true interactivity, true engagement in e-learning would ideally point to a program that would dynamically adapt its presentation to the learner taking the course at the time. Essentially, the expectation requires some sort of artificial intelligence.
The time and money required for this level of sophistication is well beyond the budget of most organizations implementing e-learning. In its place, we substitute tricked out PowerPoint presentations delivered using Flash. The point here is not to denounce web-based PowerPoint presentations but to find alternate ways of describing the product. PowerPoint is still PowerPoint even when it’s delivered through Flash.
Seat time is a useful benchmark
A common benchmark that content developers seem to use is seat time. The equation: e-learning costs X amount of dollars per student seat time. But there are problems with measuring and benchmarking against student seat time. First, it is difficult to compare what suppliers offer. An hour of student seat time with one company might cost a lot more than another because of the types of screens and interactivity that is being built.
Second, it is difficult to manage projects if the benchmark is seat time. When is something out of scope if it can be accommodated within the parameters of the agreed upon seat time? Instead of benchmarking against student seat time, why not use number of screens and number of screens per screen type. You can also try benchmarking against agreed upon performance objectives covered in a course.
Video and audio accommodate the visual and auditory learner
One of the myths that have propagated itself since the days of CBT is the notion that what makes e-learning so effective is its ability to present the same content in a multimedia format (meaning audio and video), which thereby accommodates a variety of learning styles. Based on this notion, an organization must be able to assume that “visual learners” can choose to watch a video instead of reading the text or listening to the audio track. The same would be true for “auditory learners” who would opt listen to the audio track and forego everything else.
The problem with this idea is that a well-designed course doesn’t put audio and video into a course to mimic exactly what is already there in some other format. It is meant to provide a cohesive environment where every piece of learning supports the other pieces. With this interpretation, only viewing the video would provide someone with a fragmented view of the entire learning experience. Bottom line: the use of multimedia has little to do with accommodating different learning styles and instead is used to compliment a specific type of content for all learners.
Repurposing content doesn’t work—and SCORM is a failure
The mistake people make when they claim that repurposing content doesn’t work and, therefore, SCORM is a failed standard is based on a misunderstanding of SCORM as a standard.
SCORM doesn’t dictate the design of content. SCORM simply provides a standard for packaging content that facilitates reuse when the content was designed for reuse. To assume SCORM is a failed standard because repurposing doesn’t work for all content in an organization is to miss a critical piece--whether the content was created for reuse.
A blended learning approach is unique
Who doesn’t use blended learning? I can’t imagine a single organization that doesn’t use a multifaceted approach to training employees. Blended learning isn’t a science unto itself that can be studied. Blended Learning is a reality, not a topic for a conference.