e-Learning Design’s Lost Focus On The Learner

E-learning appears to be the perpetual new kid on the block, probably because the  sector gets re-invented before it’s had time to wear down the rough edges as technology evolves at so fast a pace that it always seems like there are as many people just starting out in the industry as there are experienced practitioners. These novices tend to migrate from web development, multimedia development and teaching without any attempt to develop the requisite skill set. Of course some do, I’m one such myself, but most simply diminish the role to match their skills.

The result of this endless re-invention is that the conversation surrounding the field is focused more on how to get started than on how to improve e-learning. Focusing on how to get started almost always seems to center on what the designer should do—and buy. So that, despite being around for decades, it’s always in the starting gate. And the novice practitioners tend to be rather egocentric: ‘How do I get qualified?’, ‘What software should I use?’, ‘Which blogs should I read?’, ‘How do I make a storyboard?’ It’s all Me, Me, Me. OK, I’m overstating the case but I find myself more and more working alongside people whose attitude is ‘They’ll get what they’re given’ when it comes discussing the learners’ needs.

I had the unpleasant experience of attending an e-learning conference in Dublin last year. There were a number of things that made it unpleasant, but the standout was my encounter with an Instructional Designer from Trinity College. An American lecturer proposed an activity for our group to work on, one that had caused her aggravation in the past. Whenever she asked her high school students to create a wiki about their community, they didn’t know where to start. I pointed out that familiarizing them with wikis had now become part of the task, and the Trinity ID grew so irate at me derailing her learning design to factor in this, she literally turned her back on me and blocked me with her shoulder.