When we think about e-learning, or eXperience-based learning (EXL), we are guided by the long history of instructional experiments. After the industrial revolution, most teaching was focused on efficiency. How do we educate large numbers of people in as short a time as possible? When transportation was available to all, classroom-based learning became practical—more practical, unfortunately, than effective. Today we know, through decades of experiments and applications, that e-learning can be more effective than typical classroom instruction, has the ability to accommodate the needs of unlimited numbers of learners individually, and is even less expensive than the classroom.
"e-Learning is no longer new or a novelty for most organizations and institutions. Its use has spread broadly, perhaps more because of its lower delivery cost than any other reason. Some applications are extraordinarily effective and efficient, while others are just lower in delivery cost. The variety of instructional paradigms, from boring and pedantic to fully adaptive, individualized, and deeply engaging are, unfortunately, all called 'e-learning.' But they are far from the same things with the same value."
- Dr. Michael Allen, Michael Allen's Guide to e-Learning Second Edition
People aren't all the same, fortunately. We have different skills, different motivations, and different aspirations. The legacy teaching approach of fixed time/variable results (e.g. scheduled class terms/graded outcomes) is long overdue for a change to the natural and individual way humans want to learn.
Humans learn by experience, and often by failures within those experiences. e-Learning via a series of slides with a voice-over and a multiple-choice post-test does not change much behavior. Studying for a test typically generates short-term awareness that dissipates rapidly after testing. And the idea that, when aware, people will perform effectively because of that awareness is fraught with error. Awareness does not build skills, competency, or performance confidence.
Learner experiences and motivation are not created equal
So, what does motivate people to abandon learning and change their behaviors? A change in their beliefs. Beliefs drive our decisions and behaviors. We make decisions emotionally and based on our beliefs, after which we search for logic and justification. We know what we want the right thing to be before we know what it is. Thankfully, as we go through life, we are constantly modifying our beliefs based on the experiences we are having. These belief changes, whether positive or negative, are driving our actions. And this insight gives us strong guidance for the design of e-learning that reaches more deeply into our learners.
Not everything called e-learning has the same utility or capability. Just as not all instructors are effective with the techniques they employ, not all e-learning is effective with the instructional techniques implemented in it. But we do know how to create a high-impact learning experience if we are to do it.
We know, for example, that meaningful learning is a function of tying new information to existing beliefs and knowledge. And we know that most well-rooted knowledge was established through experience and practiced application. We know that motivation behaves like a water hose to direct attention and release energy. And we know that motivations fluctuate up and down in response to situations, such as rising scores in a game, an inspiring TED speaker, or boring e-learning. We have robust evidence that practice aids learning, and practice spaced over time leads to retention and enduring behavior patterns.
The path to Deeper Learning™
The Context, Challenge, Activity, and Feedback Framework (CCAF) and the Successive Approximations Model (SAM) have helped us create Meaningful, Memorable, and Motivational e-learning systematically and affordably. Our experience with them has now given us insights into further steps we can take to create even Deeper Learning™—approaches that integrate empathy to achieve radical performance improvement on an individualized basis. I hope you will join me on this journey toward ever more effective training and education as we continue to learn what works and doesn’t.