Elearning: What’s Possible vs. What Customers Want

I expect that every learning experience – in person or online – should be amazing. I don’t think I’m alone with this expectation. How “amazing” is defined is a different story.

When I think of amazing learning experiences, I expect good, engaging content that will help me do a job better or differently. And if it’s going to help me do something better or differently, I think amazing also includes allowing me to practice in a safe environment. I expect a variety of media… and if there’s going to be video I expect that there will be specific things I should be looking for in the video. I expect interactive case studies with branching scenarios so that I can try out new skills or different ways of doing things. I expect to be able to remember the learning experience days, weeks, even months after I complete it.

Last week, I asked several friends and colleagues what they expect when it comes to elearning.  Here’s what they had to say:

“Clarity in finding resources and functions and overall simplicity in design. If [there is] a function or resource that needs to be used frequently as part of the course design, but you have to click through seven menu options or screens to find it, or if they list three different ways to access it, then you’ve got a frustrated learner on hand.”

– Grad Student in Human Resources Development

“My expectations are that the information is practical, accessible through a variety of formats (desktop, tablet, mobile phone, etc), evidence based, non-biased and up to date.”

– Doctor and Director of Telemedicine for a university hospital system

“One thing I would expect is that there is some level of self-navigation and that at each concept or learning point there is a link to further resources that the learner can use if they are finding that particular concept difficult.”

– Regional Director for a large Global Health organization

Granted, this was a very small sample size and certainly wasn’t a very scientific study, but nonetheless not a single person expected a variety of media. Not a single person mentioned case studies or branching or gamification or other features that are trendy in the instructional design community. Not a single person used the word “engaging” in their expectations.

What they did expect included things such as ease of use, intuitive interface, relevant content, simplicity.

Just listening to what people expect, I wonder if those of us who develop elearning sometimes go too far in trying to make something creative and memorable and engaging. Of course, not a single person I surveyed said they expect their elearning experiences to be boring, either.

If you’ve made it this far through this article, I’d like to hear from you in the comments section below. What do you expect out of an elearning experience?

Looking for ways to make elearning design more interesting for the learner? You may enjoy these previous posts (written as case studies) that feature feedback from a variety of experts:

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7 thoughts on “Elearning: What’s Possible vs. What Customers Want

  1. Jenn the HRD Grad Student –

    Don’t feel guilty – according to this article there are a LOT of students who perceive classroom vs. online learning the same way: http://chronicle.com/blogs/wiredcampus/traditional-education-beats-online-in-key-areas-many-say-in-gallup-survey/47363.

    I think the *expectations* of the learner are something that instructional designers don’t always listen to and I wanted to start a conversation about it. If given the choice between: highly engaging vs. boring, I have a feeling every learner will choose highly engaging. But given limited time and money to develop something, what is the most important thing course designers should be looking to accomplish. I think simplicity is something that can sometimes be sacrificed in the name of cool, engaging course design ideas. In other words, I think there may be times when course designers get too complex for what the learner needs.

  2. As the quoted HRD grad student, I almost feel a bit guilty reading this in that I didn’t have higher expectations for e-learning. Shouldn’t I want an equally amazing experience online as I do in the classroom?! I think the gravitation towards simplicity is a reflection of how “young” e-learning still is in our field. We are still learning how to create the “wow” without also creating technical headaches for our participants. In the context of higher ed, our participants range from digital natives to Luddites, further complicating the design process for instructors who want to align courses with their participants’ e-learning abilities.

  3. While people do not expect for elearning to be engaging, I think that we always need to come back to the objectives we set for a course. Rarely are the objectives things that people can achieve by reading through an elearning module. We are asking them to engage with the material in some manner whether that be clicking, dragging or hovering on content. We are looking for people to make choices, to select, to list, to identify…While not for everything, elearing still has a place in a blended learning approach and can help fill in gaps to prepare a learner for class or to supplement learning that has already taken place.

    • Scott – thanks for the comment and I couldn’t agree more. The article itself is more of a devil’s advocate piece for instructional designers (so thank you for jumping in!).

      if you’re a doctor and you want someone to create an elearning module for other doctors to be able to identify symptoms and recommend correct courses of action, then why not throw some slides up for people to click through – on the computer, on their phone, on their tablet – and then end it with a quiz to see if they can identify symptoms and select the correct course of action? Why would a hospital invest in an instructional designer (or even an authoring tool) when they can create something simple and straight forward with resources they can download and refer to later (even though you and I and others in the ID community may call this a boring learning experience)?

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