When I run into people from my university days, I’m often awkwardly forced to explain my work. It’s always much more difficult than I imagine it will be. They understand that it has something to do with the internet, and they’re confident they know what I mean by “training,” but the term “eLearning” always seems to baffle them. After picking up my copy of e-Learning and the Science of Instruction by Ruth Clark and Richard E. Mayer last night, I think I might know why. There’s some confusion over what qualifies as eLearning. Sometimes I’ll get a link from a friend pointing me to a clever ad campaign with a note that reads, “Check out this cool eLearning module.” I’m never sure if I should correct him. Personally, regardless of how “cool” they look, I take nothing away from all the “whiz-bang” ad campaigns out there. For one thing, I’ve learned how to block out advertisements. More importantly, however, ad campaigns just aren’t developed in a way to transfer knowledge effectively. Don’t get me wrong; I appreciate the value of both inform (lessons that communicate information) and perform (lessons that build on skills) goals. Nevertheless, if you don’t have some form of testing, you have little data from which to evaluate the effectiveness of your own courseware. I’m not talking about testing performance skills after training or the usability of the courseware – these tests should always be done – I’m talking about testing on the material. How else can you know if you’ve managed to transfer knowledge, skills, and attitudinal components? That’s the point of eLearning. My colleague is right when she reminds me that we need a record of how long it takes students to go through the learning component, how long it takes them to take the test, and the number of times that they attempt to take the test. These records also allow us to look at any one of the questions in the bank of questions, and to see how many students got it right or wrong. With this information, we can determine if the objective requires an alternate strategy, or simply more time devoted to it. Without this feedback, how do you know that you’ve communicated anything? Without instructional goals and methods by which to measure them, you don’t have eLearning.
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