The price of perfection

Image by Robert Fotograf from Pixabay

I recently read this excellent post by Clark Quinn (@Quinnovator) despairing about the continued dire examples of eLearning continually being created. Sometimes I wonder whether eLearning designers take their profession seriously enough to continually research, read and improve.

It isn’t particularly hard to keep up with best practice especially given the ease with which we can now collaborate, share and network with peers and experts in the field. With the likes of Cathy Moore, Connie Malamad, Ruth Clark, Tom Khulman to name only a fraction who feel so strongly about improving the quality of eLearning tutorials that they give advice freely, I certainly share Clark Quinn’s frustrations. I’d like to think I play my own little part in the revolution.

However, I then have to take a step back and climb down from my high horse (mixing my metaphors). When discussing what is good eLearning (referring to the self-paced interactive tutorials) it often becomes very clear that even when people have the knowledge, skills and drive to produce quality their hands are quite tightly tied by time and resource constraints. People gasp with disbelief when I give them an indication of how many hours of development time to hours of learning it can take. Then their gasps turn to nervous laughter when contemplating what their bosses/sponsors would say if they asked for enough time to develop this level of excellence let alone get to grips with their new skills.

So I can equally empathise with Rob Stephen’s comment to Clark Quinn’s post. The problem is, in today’s climate where time and resources are scarce, something’s got to give – all too often that something is quality. So instead, perhaps we should ask ourselves “what’s the alternative” and take a more agile approach to make sure quality is maintained. After all there is more to eLearning than the self-paced (so called) interactive tutorials we often think of when faced with the term.

There is little excuse, however, if such poor examples to which Clark Quinn refers are still being produced. As ‘expert’ instructional designers they should know what good learning involves. Although, there may be various reasons why this might be so. Giving the benefit of the doubt, it may be that the sponsor, knowing little about what great eLearning looks and feels like, insists on info-dumps testing knowledge not application to tick those compliance boxes.

The culprit may be the sponsor’s limited budget and of course more complex the eLearning the longer it will take and therefore will cost more but that doesn’t mean that simple interactions needn’t be performance based, relevant and contextual. In which case the experts in instructional design surely would act as consultants to those with less knowledge in learning design. But it shouldn’t just be laid at their door. We all have a duty to work together, to make sure learning is effective no matter how it’s delivered. Are we willing to pay the price of perfection or will pursuit of efficiency be the cost of quality?

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  • Clark Quinn

    February 12, 2012

    Thanks for the kind words. In response to the issue of time and money, I’ve claimed elsewhere that better design doesn’t take longer (with the caveat that there may be an initial bump for the learning curve):

    • Laura Layton-James

      February 13, 2012

      Many thanks to Clark Quinn for sharing his post from the eLearn Magazine ‘better design doesn’t take longer’ which includes an example of the process learning designers need to carry out in order to produce quality learning in the first place. And I do certainly agree that IF the design process being carried to best practice guidelines then what takes the extra time in producing eLearning self-paced tutorials IS the learning curve and this can take a little more time to get to grips with. It’s just sometimes quality learning design is not being carried out properly in the first place. I touched on this in an earlier post about putting the learning back in eLearning.

      Unfortunately, from discussions I’ve had with various people attending courses I run on designing for eLearning, they are starved of time as it is for developing traditional classroom courses resulting in info-heavy lectures, demos, ‘follow-me’ instruction and sometimes not even any assessment. It’s not surprising, therefore that they don’t even have the time to climb that steep learning mountain of online tools.

      Of course it will depend on the complexity of the eLearning interactions. Simple interactions balancing information with multiple choice questions to similar to how you’d interact in a classroom, given the extra time to learn how to storyboard and author will take a lot less time to produce than more complex branching scenarios and problem solving game-based eLearning.

      This shouldn’t be a problem for expert eLearning companies and therefore the time to product shouldn’t take much/any longer. However for those embarking on creating in-house eLearning it’s a different story. Stakeholders seem to think transferring classroom courses is simply uploading info-heavy PowerPoint slides into an authoring tool and adding a few questions to test. So they set unrealistic time scales. If the walls of time are slowly contracting, the quality is being squeezed often leaving page-turning ‘nexty-nexty’ info-dumps.

      I’m not holding up excuses because there is help and advice out there for those who want to develop themselves but it can feel like your hitting your head against a brick wall.

      Perhaps it’s more about educating the stakeholders. Do they want better performance or a tick in a box. Hmmm…..not sure if I want the answer to that one!


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