Get Enriched Quick: The Rise of Rapid Elearning

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May 09, 2006

May 2006 Issue

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No-Brainer
Not everyone's a fan of Rapid Elearning, however. Critics say that it's not really training; it's just another way of describing far less complex propositions like Webcasting, Web conferencing, information transfer, or knowledge management. At worst, it's just hype—old solutions being sold in new packages with new labels. In the middle are those who concede that while it may be training, it isn't good training. Some of the complaints are semantic; others are sour grapes coming from those with a lot to lose if Rapid Elearning proliferates: traditional teachers, instructional designers, and other training professionals.

Inherent to the whole Rapid Elearning movement is the attitude that it may not be perfect, but it's good enough (and costs less, happens faster, and enables many more individuals to participate as teachers and learners). You can create deep immersive learning experiences with a sophisticated authoring tool like Authorware, says Bersin from Bersin & Associates, but you have to pay the price. On the other hand, he says, "If you can take PowerPoint and with a press of a button turn it into Flash—-that's pretty good for a lot of people."

Indeed, a lot of people are likely to be willing to trade off sophisticated training experiences for fast ones. "Even a flat file that you get just in time is going to be a ‘bazillion' times better than a really rich, immersive experience that arrives ten minutes too late," says Adobe's Wagner.

Wagner believes that the beauty of learning is in the eye of the beholder, and the beholder holds all the cards. "We can't really control what people are learning," she says. "None of us in the solutions business can do learning to another human being. People just learn. It is an innate capacity. All we can do is make it easier for people to either want to learn or to get the information that they need," she says. "Lots of times all we can do is put the content out, cross our fingers, and hope they'll learn."


Companies Featured

Adobe Systems, Inc.
www.adobe.com

Bersin & Associates
www.bersin.com

Brainshark
www.brainshark.com


Sidebar: The Range of Solutions
The 2005 industry study from Bersin & Associates entitled "Rapid Elearning: What Works" lists 16 tools/solutions, divided into two categories: Self Study (or self-paced, or asynchronous) and Live (or synchronous). The report provides this list:
  • Self Study: Macromedia Breeze, Articulate, Brainshark, CourseAvenue, DirectWeb, Learn.com, ReadyGo, Macromedia Captivate, Trivantis Lectora, Outstart Trainersoft.
  • Live: iLinc, Centra, Interwise, LearnLinc/iLinc, Macromedia Breeze Live, WebEx.

Some of these tools could be considered multi-functional and have already earned reputations as applications for Web conferencing (WebEx, Interwise, Breeze Live, and iLinc), as virtual classroom solutions (Centra and LearnLinc), or as traditional elearning authoring products (Trivantis Lectora and ReadyGo). Clearly the lines between product categories are blurry.

The list leaves a number of vendors out, most conspicuously Altus Learning Systems and ScribeStudio, but it is not intended to be exhaustive. More glaringly omitted from the list is the whole category of streaming video-presentation tools such as Accordent Presenter (which bills itself as a tool for creating rich media presentations), Vodium (a provider of online communication solutions), and Sonic Foundry's MediaSite (a rich media publishing system). 

Most of these streaming media solutions capture a talking-head video of a presenter and stream it along with synced-up PowerPoint slides, streaming audio, and subtitles, bullet-points, or other text. Many do this in a three-window interface—one window for the video, one for the slides, and one for text. These live streaming presentations can be saved for later on-demand access, as are many live Web conferences and virtual classroom sessions. 

Compare and Contrast 
One of the biggest points of contrast among Rapid Elearning solutions is whether they offer a synchronous versus asynchronous experience. Most professional trainers and instructional designers believe that asynchronous learning offers significant advantages over synchronous learning. The prototypical synchronous learning experience is the classroom, and those of us who suffered through 12 or more years of public school are well-aware of this method's shortcomings. The live classroom aims at the lowest common denominator, generally ignores individual learning styles, and forces the student to learn at a pace that may be too fast or too slow. Asynchronous learning gives the individual control over the pace. He or she can take the training whenever it is convenient, stop and start, and go back (rewind) and review. 

Defenders of the virtual classroom style elearning say it has collaborative advantages that asynchronous learning does not. Brainshark is "exclusively asynchronous," says Brainshark CEO Joe Gustafson proudly. "If you've got to create content that is important for knowledge transfer, and people want to access it on their own time, that's what Brainshark's all about," says Gustafson. Breeze, according to Adobe's senior director of worldwide elearning solutions Ellen Wagner, "is a real-time interactive learning environment that can be used like a standalone class but doesn't have to be." Live Breeze sessions can be archived for later asynchronous use.    

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