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February 02, 2007

New Environments, New Challenges


As new learning environments become available, workplace learning professionals face new and unprecedented challenges. Only a few years ago, we were confronted by online learning. We questioned whether or not it was effective? Whether or not the technology was stable enough to support our initiatives and if learners would even like e-learning? And after all that pondering, we simply created virtual classrooms and textbooks, not taking advantage of the new technology's ability to customize content or to distribute learning a little bit at a time. Our use of the new technology was constrained by old design paradigms.

Many of the questions about e-learning were answered in the following years as e-learning adoption rates have taken off and trial and error lead to better design models. Still, I see poor examples of e-learning all around. Some companies call online Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs) presented in PDF format “e-learning.” Others pass off PowerPoint slides as online learning with no interactions and obtuse bullet points left over from the person who presented the slides live.


We see, at times, a misunderstanding or no understanding of basic design principles. The field has progressed technologically in many ways, but in the area of design, more work is needed. We need to get away from true/false questions, Yes or No answers. We need to force our learners to think. We can’t provide training as just a check off box on a list of “more important things.”

Now we are confronted with Massively Multi-learner Online Learning Environments (MMOLEs).


Are we ready for environments where learners assume an avatar and interact with each other virtually in a digital landscape? Do we have the instructional design language to deal with these interactions and transform them into learning events or are we simply going to mimic classroom instruction in this new game-like environment? We need to give some serious thought on how learners learn through interaction and collaboration. Do we need a facilitator to help them understand concepts, when does the facilitator intervene and when do they let the learner struggle? What type of learning environment best facilitates understanding? How can role-plays be effective online? There are literally thousands of questions to be answered.


If we are going to be successful designers and facilitators in these MMOLEs, we are going to need to become immersed in the environment ourselves. We need to learn how MMOLEs work and function and we need to start to make intelligent design decisions. Otherwise we will once again find powerful technology trap by limited design. Be an early adopter of the new technology and see if we can develop some design guidelines to make these environment success and avoid some of the early e-learning mistakes that are still being made today.


Karl Kapp is the Assistant Director of Bloomsburg University’s Institute for Interactive Technologies and a professor of instructional technology. His own blog is located at http://karlkapp.blogspot.com.

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