The Illusion of E-learning: Why We Are Missing Out On the Promise of IP Technology

Frank L. Greenagel, E-Learning Magazine, Aug 05, 2002
Commentary by Stephen Downes

The author, Frank L. Greenagel, pulls no punches. "E-learning has not kept pace with the development of increasingly rich IP-based delivery platforms because the e-learning experience is, far too often, puerile, boring and of unknown or doubtful effectiveness." According to Greenagel, "The technology platform is driving the instructional strategy, warping our focus, which should be on creating an engaging learning experience that reliably contributes to the organization’s objectives."

CRLFHe offers a number of criticisms, worth repeating here because they are (for the most part) on the mark:

  • Developers don’t seem to be aware of how people learn, for they continue to use mostly flawed models. CRLF
  • Corporations are more interested in throughput and low unit cost, so solid measures of effectiveness are infrequently developed or applied. CRLF
  • The available platform drives the instructional strategy, which may not be appropriate to the learning style of trainees or to the learning objectives. CRLF
  • The cost of development is high, so bad (cheap) programs drive out the good ones in the absence of any commitment to measure effectiveness. CRLF
  • Effective e-learning experiences are rarely scalable. CRLF

CRLFThe author blames the lack of a proper model of cost-effectiveness based on a flawed assessment of outcomes. He additional argues that the current discussion of standards is a "distraction" and that the move toward learning objects itself may be a mistake because "we know that learning doesn’t happen in discrete chunks." And he complains that people hyping e-learning, such as Elliott Masie, "[see] no inherent contradiction between the centrality of learning effectiveness to the long range success of e-learning and the drive for interoperability."

CRLFWhat can be done? Greenagel is a little vague but tends toward arguing for the use of the internet's communication capacities and conferencing tools and toward placing greater emphasis on learning styles and adult learner preferences. Geenagel is walking on dangerous ground here (expect to see a chorus from those opposed to the idea of learning styles) but his essential point is sound. Contemporary e-learning is about packaging, locking and marketing content to a captive audience. It could be more, so much more. But the basic approach being pursued by the LCMS vendors is flawed.

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