“Myth (n): a notion based more on tradition or convenience than on fact.”
                                    — American Heritage Dictionary

This is a Two-part Article

There’s a lot we know about eLearning, much based on fact and experience, but we base some of what we believe more on wishful thinking, tradition, and legend. Separating the two can be a helpful exercise, but it can also be controversial, as people will disagree on what is true and what is myth.

This month we look at five myths related to eLearning design, development, and deployment. Next month, we’ll look at myths related to the strategic positioning of eLearning. If you have already gone beyond these myths, good for you! If not, this can be some food for thought. And what about your business leaders, your customers, your clients, your learners? What do they believe?

Myth #1: You can easily convert great classroom training to great online training.

The assumption here is that if you have a well-designed classroom course, moving it online will be a snap. After all, good instructional design works anywhere, doesn't it? No, not really. Designing for interactive learning through technology requires instructional design skills and capabilities that take into consideration the unique nature of the delivery medium and a strong understanding of how people learn independently. So, while good baseline instructional design processes and tools are an essential starting point and may make the overall job a little easier (and the outcome a lot better), the best online courses often look nothing like their classroom counterparts. While it helps to have a great classroom course to start with, moving it online while keeping it great is both art and science, and always a challenge to do well. And, to be good at it, you will need more sophisticated skills and experiences. Once you try to convert a few courses, you'll understand.

Myth #2: A great authoring tool (or suite of tools) is all you need to create great eLearning.

 Okay, this seems obvious. Of course you need more than good tools (see above). But it's surprising how many people sell (or are sold on) the idea that it's the technology that makes the work easy and the course great; that almost anyone can build a great online course if they just have the right tools. This is a dangerous assumption because an overreliance on technology, especially at the expense of instructional design, the right content, personal experience, and good old common sense, may doom the resulting eLearning to be worse than the classroom course it replaces. Without good tools, the task is much harder. With good tools, you’re just getting started. The ability to use a saw does not mean you can craft an exquisite piece of furniture.

Myth #3: eLearning must be fun.

No, eLearning must be valued. “Edutainment” may get someone to take an online course once, but if the value’s not there – from performance to business results – they won’t come back. Making the course enjoyable is a fine idea, but making it challenging, interesting, rewarding, authentic, worthwhile, and relevant is more important. Be careful of too much attention to fun; you could lose sight of the real goals of the program.

Myth #4: Many employees don’t finish eLearning courses; therefore the courses must be bad.

Well, this does happen. When there is a poorly designed course, or when the content is wrong, who can fault people for turning the whole thing off? While it is true that most of us would rather sit in a pot of boiling oil than sit through awful eLearning, it may also be true that people don't finish because they don't have to. Sometimes learners just want to learn what they need – a lesson or two – rather than sit through an entire course that they don't need. One of the benefits of good eLearning is that you can modularize and customize it so that people only take what they need. This is a powerful reason why overlaying a traditional, linear, start-at-the-beginning-and-don't-stop-till-you-get-to-the-end philosophy (often encouraged by the course completion tracking requirement of a LMS) just doesn't always work for eLearning.

Myth #5: Getting the technology to work is the hard part.

Many training organizations exhaust themselves – and their budgets – trying to get technology in place and working. They may struggle with selecting a LMS, and then with getting it to work in their environment. They invest in authoring tools, virtual classroom tools, and more. But if you don’t plan well, when it’s all in place there can be few resources – or little energy – left for content and design. Once you get the technology to work, the real challenge – creating quality content and programs to run on that technology in ways that deliver value to the organization – is just beginning. Investing in the latest and greatest technology at the expense of investments in quality content and programming may be counterproductive; try for a better balance between the two.

So, what do you think? Myth, reality, or somewhere in between? Get your designers, your developers, your managers, and your technical people together and start the discussion. Next month we’ll look at more strategic myths about the value of eLearning.

My thanks to Lance Dublin for contributing some of these myths and debating them with me.