Why eLearning Can Never Be Boring: Q&A with Cathy Moore

Cathy Moore is a recognized elearning and training expert who has helped dozens of organizations (including the U.S. Army, NATO, USPS, and Chevron) and shares her insights on her blog. In February, Moore will be presenting a two-day e-Learning Instructional Design Certificate at the Training 2012 conference in Atlanta, GA.She spoke with The Daily Mindflash about a crucial requirement for all training programs -- to never, ever, be boring.

Not-boringMindFlash: The tagline on your blog is, “Let’s save the world from boring e-learning!” What is it that makes e-learning boring?

Cathy Moore: What makes it boring is when we take the approach that whatever problem we’re trying to solve will be solved by pushing information at people. That’s usually not the case; only in a minority of situations is shoving information at people a helpful thing to do. But, unfortunately, to answer your question, a lot of e-learning uses passive information presentation (or information “dump”), where the amount of cognitive involvement on the part of the learner is nil. You might have quiz questions that ask you to remember what you saw just one screen ago — just testing short-term memory.

Another reason e-learning is boring is because it often seems irrelevant to the e-learner, because the people who requested the e-learning or designed the e-learning didn’t look closely enough at the problem they’re trying to solve and identify what we’re really solving and why the learners should care.

You’ve said that teaching employees through methods like scenarios and action-mapping is more effective than just lecturing and quizzing. Why, then, do people so often turn to the info-dump style of teaching/delivery?

There are a couple of reasons. One is that it’s familiar — it’s what a lot of us were exposed to in our formal education. For example, if I think about college, I sat in a room and listened to somebody talk and watched them write on a board and that was it. I wasn’t involved in any way and it was a model of one-way information transfer. And, again, I think this goes back to the fundamental mistake we make when we decide to create some sort of training. We make several mistakes, one of them being, Hey the solution is to push information at people, and therefore my job is to design information.

eLearning expert Cathy MooreI‘m not even so much concerned about making information stick, as I think a lot of the information we present in training should actually be in performance-support materials like job aids. I’m more interested in helping learners make better decisions on the job, which would mean: refer to the information they need, and use it. Not just recite it.

Would these e-learning strategies translate to other things like traditional education?

They certainly do, and the movement in e-learning to make it more involving, more contextual, and more like insinuation. There’s a parallel movement going on in face-to-face education. You might look at materials done by Roger Schank — he’s a pretty outspoken leader in this movement to make education less of an information dump.

What e-learning strategies simply don't work?

I think that courses are too often assumed to be the solution to a problem. I would advocate for more thorough analysis of the training problem to make sure that training is a solution. More thorough analysis of the performance problem, tying it more closely to the business strategy and following through on the formal training.

What I would outlaw is the common practice of making a snap judgment that training will solve the problem and assuming that training is an information dump with a quiz — no follow up, no evaluation, nothing.

You might look also at the 6D model by the Fort Hill Company. They have an overview of their model where training, like e-learning, it just one tiny step in this larger approach to solving a problem.

Techniques like the Branching Scenario, illustrated and explained here, offer a different approach to teaching that goes beyond passive information-presentation. For more examples of the techniques Moore mentioned in our interview, check out this post on e-learning examples from her blog.

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