When information needs to be moved to a new medium, we have a tendency to try to make the new medium fit the mold of the old. When the Internet was in its early days, websites would often look just like a document: whole paragraphs of text with headings, filling the screen from side to side. But soon we realized that reading on the screen was ineffective, and we learned that a good website chunks the material and uses a series of hierarchical hyperlinks to get us to the exact information we need.
The same is true with eLearning. eLearning is not just an online representation of what we would do in the classroom. It's a paradigm shift. It's a new way of presenting ideas in a way that is observable and learnable in a short time on one's own. Because an adult learner has a limited amount of attention to devote to eLearning, the language and the images need to engage and involve the learner.
The voiceover script of eLearning cannot have the dense layers of meaning and abstract terminology typically used in academic text meant to be read. Instead we need to use plain language, short sentences, and a proportional ratio of text to imagery.
And the methods used in eLearning cannot be the same as classroom methods: lecture, note-taking, discussion.
That does not mean that eLearning cannot convey complex ideas and enable adults to achieve learning at a high-level on Bloom's taxonomy. But it does mean that we need to break the ideas down in some new ways, provide interactivity to help learners apply the effort needed to learn the material, and supply knowledge-check evaluations to allow learners to gain confidence in synthesizing and applying the concepts.
Even if the audience for an eLearning lesson is individuals with PhDs, text with a high grade-level is not appropriate for an audio voice over. It will come across as a lecture, and adults in the business world will have a hard time holding their focus on it and absorbing it. It will go by the wayside somewhere between email and the next business meeting.
The problem is not the difficulty of the content of high-grade-level text, but its density. Too much meaning per word, too many words per sentence, and too many sentences per visual element creates a challenge for an adult engaging with eLearning.
In the eLearning world, information, knowledge, and analytical skills need to be broken down into less-dense units and taught in a new and different way. By trying to stick closely with live classroom paradigms for eLearning, we risk having it fail.
And if it fails, it is not because eLearning cannot convey complex concepts. It is because of the failure to present the content using the methodology of eLearning.
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