eLearning, Reimagined.

eLearning, Reimagined.

Experience Driven Learning (EDL) to shape the next generation of eLearning

Posted by Dean Pianta, Solutions Manager

Ever since someone figured out how to burn a course to a CD, learning technologists have been racing to digitize the classroom and push a distance-learning agenda.

Things really took off with the Internet. The door was now open for us to hang content on the web, assign it to a global audience and even track completions. With the best intentions, we blended in virtual classrooms—which were really online lectures with little to no interactivity, and lots of latency.

Flash forward 30 years and the tech is better, the bandwidth supports more fidelity, and mobile computing offers convenience like never before. But all of these technology advancements aren’t improving learning. It’s very important to point out where the demand signal has been coming from: cost reduction. Not mission readiness. It’s been about trying to digitize classroom content and handing out certifications to the masses to save on travel costs, rather than fully exploiting technology to maximize learning.

This ‘old’ approach and overall misplaced focus has hindered innovation across the eLearning community. Compounding the problem is the rate of information change and what the Department of Defense refers to as an increasingly volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous (VUCA) environment. We have a perfect storm forming where already aging, siloed technology meets an increasingly complex learning landscape. At risk: mission readiness.

What can we learn from other industries?

Let’s look at digital marketing: a trillion dollar market where technology is disrupting the status quo. It has revolutionized and reset the bar for digital experiences. From shopping, to booking a flight, to consuming entertainment; our behavior, expectations and vocabulary have transformed. We binge-watch TV (and stay up later than we should); we expect free, same-day shipping; and we now get cabs sent to us through a mobile app.

How we discover, learn and make decisions about buying products and services has fundamentally changed since our first experience with the Web in the ‘90s. It is the innovation in Digital Marketing that we have to thank for this. This technology has redefined the customer experience to disrupt traditional brick-and-mortar retail. Revenue is their driver, and the customer experience is the lever.

With that in mind, we have to ask ourselves: Has the eLearning experience changed this much over the past decade or two?

The answer is: No.

Today’s Learning Management Systems (LMS) have dutifully given access to information, but all have failed to recreate the social aspects of learning. Instead, they provide a solitary learning experience. It’s like a student going to school and not being able to ask questions or even talk to anyone. They get handed a book divided into timed chapters, with some assignments.

Or, let’s take the old library analogy. You walk into a library at midnight and there’s no one to help you find a book. If you do stumble across something of value, you don’t know who else read it, what they questioned, or if they’d even recommend it. The result is often a mediocre-at-best, disconnected learning experience.

That is today’s online learning experience. Technology is underperforming and underdelivering—to an audience with an ever-increasing need to learn more, better and faster.

eLearning today:

eLearning desperately needs more attention. More innovation. We need to start building systems that learners want to use. And that only happens when everything revolves around the concept of the “experience.”

When you look at the technology for sites like Amazon, Facebook or Netflix, everything is now about personalized, relevant experiences. Why? Because there is a direct relationship between revenue and the quality of the customer’s experience. For this reason, everything a customer looks at, how much time they spend on a page or video, and when they drop off are continually being analyzed to optimize relevancy in hopes of better understanding the customer. Armed with these insights, digital marketers seek to deliver the right content at the right time to the right device; and ultimately complete a transaction.

My 9-year-old son even loves Amazon. He sees everything he needs on one page without being overwhelmed, he sees what others are saying, what questions and answers have come up, and what similar products people are looking at. In fact, my 21-year old can’t imagine going into a brick-and-mortar store to buy something—he’s frightened by the thought of not having access to community feedback and suggestions on alternatives. “Who would shop like that?” he asks.

Personalization has a great deal to do with being part of a community as well. By grouping like-minded customers, the experience is augmented with peer-to-peer interaction. Ratings, reviews, Q&As and crowd-sourced information are “curated” to delight the customer (and drive revenue).

What is Experience Driven Learning (EDL)?

As with Digital Marketing, the next wave of eLearning should be driven by the student experience. The approach we take on how to make, manage and measure content should completely revolve around the user. Personalization, analytics and communities of interest define an “informal” learning concept that should be combined with today’s formal learning methods.

This supports “Ready, Relevant Learning” (RRL) in an environment where people can find, consume and contribute content. Here, a great experience will drive more use. More use drives more insight, and all the while, driving more meaningful knowledge transfer to the learning community.

If we go back to the library analogy, this new, upgraded library would bring a completely new experience. You walk in, flip the switch, and a bookshelf appears that is organized based on your life, job, previous visits and preferences. Pages are earmarked, comments are written, notes provided, commonly asked questions answered. And you have the ability to reach out to the author, a subject matter expert, or the technologist responsible for the content delivery. There are people, all learning and engaged, and you can actually feel the learning ‘buzz’ in the air. In fact, the librarians are measuring the buzz to gain quantitative insight on how to improve the experience.

For eLearning, Adobe calls this an Experience Driven Learning solution. EDL fuses formal and informal learning, incorporating the latest social learning, mobile learning, analytics, and online and offline experiences. It moves beyond SCORM-based pass/fail metrics and tracks who is reviewing content, who is passing or failing tests, how content and instructors are performing, what learners are looking for, and what gaps exist. This is a system that improves experiences for learners as well as instructors, instructional system developers, administrators, etc.

All this is possible with the technology we have today.  And remember, preserving the status quo is not a strategy.

If you are doing something different or have ideas to make eLearning better for all, share it with us at @AdobeGov #eLearningInnovations

About the AuthorDean Pianta has 25 years in eLearning, military simulation and commercial game development. He joined Adobe Systems Federal to fuse these concepts together and drive innovation to the public sector. As a learning-obsessed person, Dean sees Adobe’s Digital Marketing technology as the guide.

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