Tuesday, 29 July 2008

Step away from the screen!

Yesterday I heard a devastating critique of e-learning, from a source not just close to home, but actually in my home.

My wife is preparing for her ACCA professional accountancy final exams, and was explaining to me why she – and many of her accountancy colleagues – chose to attend classes rather than take the e-learning option. Basically, she spends all day slaving over hot spreadsheets, and doesn’t like the idea of spending even more time in front of a computer. This led into a discussion of the precautions she takes to avoid RSI, and how she always chooses, whenever there is a choice, to do things away from the PC.

As more and more of us spend more and more of our work time in front of computers, is this the fundamental problem with e-learning?

I think this helps explain why some people are reluctant to choose online courses. But it also illustrates a common misconception about what e-learning involves – it’s not all self-study in front of the PC.

Most importantly, this critique is not actually about learning at all. Instead, it points at how we interface with digital technology in general. See my post of 14 May re new interfaces – the time is near when we’ll no longer use a keyboard and mouse, but instead will use more natural interfaces. This is the problem my wife was highlighting, and for the time being, it remains an issue not just for e-learning, but for all applications of digital technology, especially those we deem less urgent or important.

And no, that's not my wife in the picture.

Wednesday, 2 July 2008


The other day, a prospective client asked me if I was a zealot – an e-learning zealot. I thought it was an odd question. I responded that I regard e-learning as one of a number of useful approaches to learning and development, alongside classroom-based learning, work-based learning, coaching and mentoring approaches, innovative approaches, and others. This response seemed to go down well – apparently I had demonstrated that I wasn’t a zealot.

But who exactly are these “zealots” that my prospect – and perhaps other learning and development professionals – fear?

Surely there isn’t anyone out there now (there may have been ten years ago) who seriously believes e-learning is the best or only approach to learning, or should be the default approach? Surely nobody actually thinks we should abandon all – or even most – of our learning approaches and put everything online?

I used to think trainers who feared e-learning meant their jobs would be replaced by computers were hopelessly naïve, but perhaps this sort of fear is more widespread than I thought?

What sort of message have e-learning vendors been getting across for the past ten years if this sort of fear persists?