e-Learning: What’s hot, what’s not

I received a request from a colleague last week who is helping a company put together a learning strategy,  part of which will focus on e-learning.  Her question was this:

what’s hot and what’s not in e-learning these days ?

I gave it a bit of thought and came up with the following lists.  I would love to hear your additions or deletions from the list (as would my colleague).

What’s Hot

This list is more what learning professionals and e-learning designers are talking about than what they are actually doing.  Very little of the following has moved to the mainstream of practice as far as I can see.

  • Social media and e-Learning 2.0

Take a quick scan of professional conference topics, e-learning blogs and tweets, professional publications and pretty much any discussion between e-learning professionals and the conversation is crackling with web 2.0 and learning 2.0.

Almost everyone is trying to figure out how to best use web 2.0 technologies for learning.  Like learning 1.0,  it will need the broader acceptance of a generalized web 2.0 platform on which to piggy back and an acceptance of the legitimate social and informal aspects of learning before it really takes off inside organizations.  It’s coming.

  • Informal Learning

Tell me you haven’t had at least one “70-20-10” conversation in the last month.  The “rule” that development is best achieved through a mix of experience (70%) mentoring/coaching (20%) and formal learning (10%) has been around for a while (most sources point to it’s origin at the centre for Creative Leadership in the late 80’s) but has caught a second wind in recent years.

Entire programs of learning are being developed around the principle.  Or at least classroom programs are being extended and enhanced with attempts at informal learning. Web 2.0 is filling a need by providing a platform for the 70-20 part of the equation.  I think this is all a good thing although formulaic adherence to the “rule” seems a bit silly.

  • Simulations and scenario-based learning

While web 2.0 and informal learning are dominating the e-learning zeitgeist some good old fashioned Web 1.0 ideas are making a comeback.  Simulations, Scenario-based learning and other forms of immersive e-learning have long been heralded as superior learning strategies that emphasize doing over telling.

Until recently they were technically and financially difficult to implement but recent templates, tools and creative thinking has brought them back to the table.  It’s hard to think of a management development e-learning solution that does not contain some form of scenario-based exercise. .

  • Virtual Worlds

I’m yet to be convinced of the real value Second Life based learning environments in organizational settings, but there’s no denying the inroads they are making.  There is lots of info out there.  Here are some links to an ASTD question of the month on Second Life/Virtual worlds.   Make up your own mind.  Don’t let your demographic get in the way .

  • Rapid Learning Tools

For better or for worse rapid e-learning tools continue to grow.  The popularity of blogs like the Rapid e-Learning Blog and others are a clear indicator.   There is truth to the argument that in the right hands highly effective learning can be created from the likes of Articulate, Adobe Connect and Lectora.  But more often than not they simply result in another PowerPoint with obligatory quiz.

  • Mobile Learning

Another “future” technology that is finally seeing its day.  Blackberry,  iPhone and other PDA’s are now more or less portable internet devices with  impressive media capabilities.  Both highly useful for mobile e-learning.  Larger organizations with mobile workforces are leveraging the capabilities for some interesting just-in-time training.   Here’s an interesting example from Sun from an earlier post.

  • Open source learning technologies and tools

Web 2.0 has had a democratizing effect on the web and it’s no different in the learning world.  Free and open source learning tools such as Moodle (LMS), Dokeos (authoring, LMS, (collaboration), NING (custom social networking ) DimDim (web meetings) and many others (Jane Hart’s e-leaning pick of the day is always a rich source)  are a growing alternative to proprietary tools.  The proprietary vendors  are taking note.  Microsoft recently offered it’s Learning Content Development System for free download.

  • Performance support

Is it just me or is electronic performance support making a comeback as a vehicle for informal learning.  If so,  I’m all for it.

What’s Not

  • Learning 1.0

Still the mainstream of e-learning.  Some can be very good, but budget realities and less than creative learning designs have resulted in a collective sigh of  “is that all there is?” by users who appreciate the convenience of e-learning 1.0 more than it’s quality.  (Senior management appreciates it cost savings more than its quality) Static pages turners, and linear assessment driven programs will soon see their day.

  • Learning Objects

If video killed the radio star then web 2.0 killed the learning object. It was a compelling concept that was difficult to implement and maintain,  not to mention that in the six or seven years it was “hot” nobody could land on a decent definition of a learning object.

Articles like this one started to appear a couple years ago.  Now people ask , as Gary Woodill did on a recent CSTD LMS panel, “does anyone talk about Learning Objects anymore”?.  I’ll admit, I still like the idea of knowledge and media objects that can be used in the context of learning, communication and performance support.  Objects a little further down the food chain than the a “learning object” are easier to implement and more truly re-usable.

  • Learning Management Systems

When LMS vendors introduced e-learning delivery and management to their bag of tricks they very effectively created an excitement around what used to be the boring administrative tasks of training and created an on-line home for all things learning.  Now everybody’s got one.  Not so exciting.

With notable exceptions, they have been slow to adopt Web 2.0 collaborative tools and when they have it’s been more of  an add-on to what is essentially a learning 1.0 environment.  As learning 2.0 starts to get more traction the LMS will either be replaced by other more open learning environments or evolve in that direction themselves.  Dan Pontefract at Training Wreck gets to the heart of it here:  The standalone LMS is Dead

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13 Responses
  1. Nice summary Tom.

    I like to think of the term ‘Learning Objects’ these days as ‘Learning Nuggets’.

    I don’t care if it’s a 2 minute video, a 4 minute job aid, a one-page reference guide, a diagram, an opinion blog, a book reference, whatever – they are all learning nuggets (be it formal, informal or social) and they are the ‘new’ learning objects.

    Maybe I’ll see you next week in Vancouver with Donna?


  2. What’s Hot?

    I’d include Game Based Learning along with the Simulations and scenario-based learning.

    Immersive Learning also comes up a lot in context of simulations and virtual worlds.

    What’s Not?

    Objectives – Somehow learning designers don’t want to write objectives anymore.

    Bloom’s taxonomy – Do we need this anymore?

    Kirkpatrick’s evaluation – Not completely out yet but being questioned.

    ADDIE – It’s the world of rapid, iterative, agile development. Definitely uncool to mention ADDIE as a development process.

  3. Hi Tom: Good to know you’ll keep up the online conversation.

    I recently looked at technologies that are ready to cross the chasm, and using that table, I’d say Twitter, Social networking & Mobile are getting hot enough for corporate use, as well as PKM (personal knowledge management). Regarding the latter, a lot of people are trying to get some control over the information tsunami.


  4. I’m not sure that I’d put “scenario-based learning” with simulations, mostly because I think you can do text-based scenarios and more problem-based learning without requiring the technology of simulations. I guess I see the focus in “scenario-based learning” on the narrative, the story, the drama–not the technology. Simple branching is possible even in PowerPoint if you’re desperate, and I’m not convinced that complex branching is always necessary.

    I’m not sure about mobile learning either, but maybe that’s because I’ve been in online higher ed for the last three years and it really isn’t part of the landscape here. Mobile learning still feels like something that is a bit on the bleeding edge. People will continue to talk about it, but it won’t really happen most places for a few more years.

    Harold’s point about PKM seems to fit with your point about informal learning; PKM seems to be the way you manage all that informal learning to be able to find the info you need when you need it.

  5. Great post. Not sure I agree that mobile learning is hot. But mobile access is. Just that most users are not really doing that much access of learning on the devices – well at least traditional learning materials.

  6. Melissa Venable

    Thanks for the post! I see and hear more and more about the demise of the LMS these days. I notice you listed two open source LMS options in your “hot” list. Is it the proprietary part that puts the others in the “not hot” list? Having worked a little with both types, the support required to realize the potential for either is significant.

  7. Kia ora e Tom

    I am sceptical of anything that smacks of a fashion trend in learning or in elearning. Fashion tends to swing like a pendulum, attempting to reach the goal but never getting there, residing longer at extremes than anywhere else.

    However, I do feel that there are a lot of elearning myths, and some of these have been spread around like fashion trends.

    Catchya later

  8. Thanks for the comments. Nice to see some Gram Consulting readers back and some new commenters.

    Won’t be in Vancouver. Maybe next time :). I agree with your view on objects. It’s not consistent with older attempts at defining “learning objects” (objectives, content, practice, assessment) but I think the “nuggets” you mention can be used in a formal e-learning program or left as independent learning resources to be used as defined by the learner.

    Yes, i think Game based should be included in the hot list. Your other items are more process oriented but i agree they are not “hot”. See my previous posts on ADDIE and Fun with Learning Taxonomies for some thoughts there.

    Nice presenting with you at CSTD. We’ll have to do it again. Thanks for the link. I have a feeling consumer market tools like twitter, facebook etc. won’t find their way into organizations, but like programs targeting the corporate market will (Yammer, SocialText etc). But I’ve yet to commit to twitter so what do i know 🙂

    Nice distinctions. Thank you. In addition to PKM, I’d add personal workflow management at la GTD (Getting Things Done). All the rage for the last few years based on David Allen’s book. There are many interesting hacks to the process as well. It’s basically a personal productivity system that emphasizes the results side of the equation more than PKM. However PKM is an essential element in the process (like the performance vs. knowledge distinctions we are used to working with)

    Nice to hear from you. I take your point on mobile, although i have seem quite a bit of it for technical support/troubleshooting guidance for orgs with large tech/sales support staff.

    Great distinction. I think the open source LMSs I listed are “hot” in terms of interest but I thinks it’s cost savings that driving that. On functionality and the issues you mentioned I think people are starting to shift to more collaborative environments (open source or not), and that’s why I put traditional LMS in the “not” category.

    I like your myths list. Thanks. Fashion trends exist, for better for worse, in all areas of public and corporate life. Just because something is “hot” however doesn’t necessary mean it’s valuable or lasting (which i think is your point)

    Thanks all.

  9. Gail

    I am a beginner in the field of instructional design for e-learning, but I am an experienced educator. I would like to take a swing at some comments on the what’s “hot” and “not” list.

    So here’s what I see happening in my backyard to add to your blend.

    NOT: Frankly, have not seen the valid uses of Twitter becoming embedded in instructional design in secondary setting. The use seems too limited:. Also, unless I’m mistaken, the security is questionable.

    Social Media; Ok, well, for my student age group (12 – 18) : They think it’s Hot, I think it’s NOT- I’ve yet see it useful for integration into a secondary courses’ design or activities in traditional settings. I would be game to SEE the application sample that provides for a useful purpose. I think, many systems are more useful and secure for the secondary setting than “Facebook” or “MySpace.”

    HOT: Sims, Game design and VR: exciting to see the application of these tools for the educational community. As you mentioned, I have seen some seemingly viable options . Although I am unsure of the economics of it, the kids are very visual learners and media rich environments are stimulating and motivational. Learning constructivists seems to be all about this concept. Whether students are creating or participating, these environments offer engaging learning experiences, and the landscape for these venues seems enormous. Personally, I think the game environments an VRs are an edgy way to approach inquiry learning and problem -based instruction in an experiential format.

    I am new to e-learning design, but I have seen some attepts to intergrate Twitter, text, and social networks. I just haven’t seen them play out well at this level. I anxiously will watch and learn from all of you regarding more about the Hot and Not tools for instuctional designs.

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