This article has really got under my skin

I read it, then I read it again. And I think I was more annoyed the second time around.

This is what I’m talking about:

Automation in eLearning Course Development

Right now, elearning design and creation is still a very time intensive process. This may change significantly in the next few years though. Automated content creation solutions are becoming more and more sophisticated, allowing content providers to create and curate great elearning content with minimal effort.

elearning elements that used to take a long time to develop, such as exercises, quizzes, tests and games, can now be generated using automated solutions. The most advanced tools scan the course content and determine which are the most important parts to be included in tests.

These solutions will only get better, allowing for significant time and cost savings in the development of elearning courses. They can also provide a more individualized learning experience by analyzing a student’s performance and learning preferences. Based on this information, course content (including tests) can be personalized.

Don’t get me wrong, I am a geek through and through and I love a good bit of software as much as the next nerd, especially if it makes me more productive and keeps my clients happy.

I also get that technology is evolving at an amazing rate, but to suggest that a tool can replace a skilled instructional designer to create meaningful learning experiences is nuts.

Time and again this article refers to content creation – can we please stop shoving content at people and start thinking about real experiences and resources that will facilitate learning and lasting behavioural change?

Games generated using automated solutions is also something I struggle with. There are many factors to be considered when developing meaningful games for learning. Learning theories and game mechanics must be applied in order to achieve the behaviour change required, it’s not just a case of “oh, let’s pop a game in there to break things up a bit!” (which is something I do hear with alarming regularity, sadly…)

It’s great if we can get our learners to have some fun while learning, but if fun is all it is then we are just wasting our time with shiny objects.

I’ve never been a fan of the whole “rapid eLearning” movement because I just feel that the minute you start speeding up this process you lose something in the value of what you are doing. I have always spent more time in analysis and design with stakeholders on paper up front so that the development was straightforward with less amendments down the track – and that didn’t involve any automated tools.

Should we be letting a tool decide on the most important content to assess people on? Surely that should be defined by the instructional designer based on the learning outcomes required?

If this is the way things are going, can we expect all skilled professions to soon be replaced with automation? For example, how long before there is a machine or piece of software that will:

    • Cut your hair
    • Paint a masterpiece
    • Make a bouquet of flowers
    • Write a novel?

All of these things require skills and creativity – and so does designing good eLearning.

This article focuses on elearning courses in the traditional self-paced format, but the trend I am seeing is towards social learning and just-in-time resources rather than full-blown online courses. A lot of learning is now self-directed by the learner and I see our role moving more towards creating frameworks for learning based on instructional methodologies, which the learner can move through as they need.

Our job is to create effective and engaging online learning and quite honestly the idea that we can apply the “sausage factory” approach and get any kind of meaningful results for organisations and individuals is ludicrous.

Good elearning does not have to be expensive or take forever to build, but the quality of the solution will be determined by the level of instructional design skills, creativity and strategic direction involved at the outset.

And none of that can be found in a tool.

Stepping down from my soap box now, rant over, your turn…


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  1. Kate 18/11/2015 at 11:23 am

    Totally agree with you!

    • Karen Moloney 18/11/2015 at 12:12 pm

      Thanks Kate! I’m all for efficiency, but not at the cost of quality…

  2. Kyle 18/11/2015 at 1:30 pm

    Hi Karen. Automated content creation scares me too. How can software scan to determine the most important part of the content? Speeding up the approach seems to align with the idea that the content or course is the outcome, rather than the performance or behaviours that result. Producing more eLearning quicker does not necessarily equal the achievement of business or educational objectives.

    In saying that I believe you can speed up the process without losing quality. We have been using “rapid eLearning” successfully for a few years now. It allows users to interact with the content a lot sooner but you need a good instructional designer and to factor change into the design process.

    • Karen Moloney 18/11/2015 at 1:42 pm

      Thanks for your comments Kyle! I think your last point is the critical one. A lot of rapid eLearning tools are about shoving a PowerPoint file in one end and getting eLearning out the other, which involves no design skills whatsoever and gives eLearning the bad name it has. My personal belief is that if we do the right work up front in the analysis and design then we can find ways to introduce efficiencies to the development process in terms of tools and methodology.

  3. Jane 19/11/2015 at 2:37 pm

    Very well said Karen. Apart from the fact that the human skills behind ID are being challenged by this article it concerns me what non-ID people then assume about such articles. There are many organisations and clients out there who, when they engage IDs, believe that good learning can be churned out in an instant. These types of articles don’t make our work easier when we have to educate and convince our clients of the time it takes to create quality learning that hits the mark. For me, most of my time is spent in the analysis and planning and that way development and implementation just rolls out.

    • Karen Moloney 22/11/2015 at 9:54 pm

      Thanks Jane! It’s difficult when you are working with clients who don’t understand the process. In a lot of cases it’s because this is their first experience with eLearning and instructional design. Whenever we debriefed with clients at the end of a project, the one thing most of them said is that they had no idea just what was involved from a design perspective. I’m not sure what the answer to that problem is, but it’s definitely something I will give more thought to and I’ll be sure to share any ideas I have on the blog.

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