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Thursday, June 08, 2006

Start with Courseware or With the Other Stuff?

Dave Boggs recent post No eLearning Tectonic Plate Shift Here had some interesting comments about my article Shift in eLearning from Pure Courseware towards Reference Hybrids. He seems to see the same thing, but claims that it has always been this way. Has it? Or is there something different now?

Now I know that Tony is an academic, and he's probably teaching at a University and doing consulting, but ...

I always worry when someone labels you "an academic" because it sounds like they think you don't work in the real world. Since Dave and I don't really know each other I have no idea if he means it in any particular way. Dave, just as a heads up. I was a professor of Computer Science and Multimedia for 10 years but had to leave when my company started to grow. I continue to write, speak and sometimes teach, but I'm much more of a hands on developer of eLearning Solutions than "an academic." I helped build two companies in the multimedia training world and then started my company, TechEmpower, and grew it when it became clear that the web (online learning) meant that people would need help with strategy, selection, integration, and development. Because of my dual background in hard-core systems and human performance, I've had a chance to work on some pretty interesting things. As an example, for the first four years of eHarmony's (the marriage matching site) existance, I was essentially a part-time CTO. I've worked with a wide variety of Fortune 500 companies on different eLearning projects and regularly network with folks at these companies who are active with defining technical direction for eLearning. So, when I'm talking about trends, that's where I'm coming from.
what he is talking about is NOT some grand revelation that has just started and he is certainly not the first one to see it.

Its a natural progression for a company to start with the courseware scenario, and then move to adding other elements. I am not saying its right or wrong, its just what I have seen happen most of the time at corporations.
I wouldn't necessarily claim that anything I write about is a "grand revelation" nor would I say that I'm claiming to be "the first one to see it" - it's hard to ever claim that. When Dave says "it's a natural progression ... start with the courseware, and then move to adding other elements ... " is simultaneously making my point and missing the bigger picture.

Three years ago, most every company would follow the pattern courseware -> other elements. In other words, the general model was to build eLearning solutions by thinking about the courseware first and secondarily think about the leave-behind materials, e.g., online job aids, help, etc. Why did we start with courseware? Well that's what most people were thinking about at the time. You had your LMS in place. You built your courseware and tracked it with your LMS. You STARTED with the COURSEWARE.

Today, I see more and more companies STARTING WITH THE OTHER STUFF. We may not even produce courseware. It may not get tracked under the LMS.

And, I'm not so sure that this is as obvious as Dave would have you think. After all, take a look at what Bersin suggests in his Four Stages - eLearning Technology: Leading with an LMS - Harmful to Your Health (or Skipping Stages in Bersin's Four Stage Model), or an article in CLO about on demand information eLearning Technology: Tools for On-Demand Information - An LMS? or the recent article in Learning Circuits - eLearning Technology: The Real HCM Maturity Model ... all of these suggest the LMS and courseware as the center of the eLearning universe. If all you did was read these articles, you might very well find yourself starting with Courseware still.
I would also say that Tony mentions wiki use for reference material -- well again, he is pushing a philosophy there which has yet to translate into the collective training/learning gestalt of most corporations who are thinking about e-Learning.
Well we do agree on this. Today, you are more likely to find people building the other stuff with Dreamweaver, RoboInfo, MS Word, their company CMS or by hand than with a Wiki. But, if you haven't really started doing this yet - I would highly recommend looking at Wiki technology. It will lower your barrier to using these techniques significantly. And will lower your ongoing maintenance costs as well.

I'm realizing that Dave likes loaded terms "an academic" ... "pushing a philosophy" ... I certainly am suggesting that you seriously consider what I'm saying the next time you are thinking about a learning solution. There are too many variables to know if this approach will be right for you in your particular case. And thank goodness for that, because you might need to hire someone like me (or Dave) to help you figure out how to to approach things in your particular situation. But is it worth considering?

My comments are turned on, I welcome your thoughts on this. Or post in your blog and let me know about it. :)


Dave Lee said...

Hey Tony. I think one of the real issues here is what exactly you define as your "starting" point. Is it the first RFP a company puts out to purchase a solution that is classified as an elearning tool? Is it the biggest initiative in the area of elearning the company is supporting? Or the one endorsed by the learning and development department?

I think the reason most people "started" with courseware had much more to do with the existing paradigm of learning than it had to do with anything else. I know when we were developing one of the first "learning platforms" (LMS's weren't invented yet) at Universal Learning Technology back in 1997, we defaulted to the course model because the marketplace was nearly 100% course driven. Learning objects were just being born as a concept. The internet had very few bells and whistles.

Neither vendors nor consultants chose to work with a course orientation because of an academic or philosophical preference. They chose the course model because that was the model the marketplace understood and thus would buy.

Tony Karrer said...

Interesting point Dave! People are creating courses because that's what was being bought. I'm sure that is very much at work here.

Does that mean that customers are becoming more sophisticated at this point because they are asking for other kinds of solutions?

And, if "the course model" was not the unit - what would you have done?

Dave Lee said...

Building products and/or services customers will pay for is the task of every company. But beyond that, I'd argue that the vendors were also biased by the dominant paradigm in their product development efforts. Many of the early players were folks out of educational publishing, universities, or at least had gotten a college degree (and thus four years of indoctrination into the course mentality.)

What if the course weren't the dominant paradigm, what would we have done? The simple answer is we would have build to whatever the marketplace expected and/or wanted.

Actually we were working with a model of modular activities (learning objects) which would be dynamically render based off of the learner's profile and currucular DTD's. So I'd say that's what we would have packaged had there been no clear direction from the market.