Michael Allen Rails Against Boring E-Learning

In the July 2003 issue of Learning Circuits features a superb and lively interview with e-learning guru Michael Allen: Down with Boring E-Learning!

I’ve been a fan of Michael Allen’s practical, playful approach to e-learning ever since I became interested in this fast-growing field. This interview sums up many of the reasons I admire his work.

My favorite part of the Learning Circuits interview was when Ryann Ellis asked, “Why/how do you find most e-learning to be boring? What isn’t working? Pet Peeves?”

Here’s how Allen responded to that…

(Excerpted from Learning Circuits article)

Allen: E-learning is often boring for the same reasons much traditional instruction is boring. It focuses on content presentation rather than the learning experience. In fact, I find that 99% of it all follows the “tell-and-test” paradigm: convey a block of content through lecture, books, screens, movies, bullet slides, and so forth. Then, give a quiz. All the boring stuff generally overlooks my three primary criteria (the 3Ms):

  1. Meaningful. What’s more boring than content you don’t understand? Not much, except content you’ve already mastered. If you’re set on the content you’re going to present, regardless of who you’re training and the differences among your learners, then you’re set on boring at least some of them—quite possibly all of them. Learning experiences need to be tailored with focus on the learner: Does the learner see the value in learning this? Are learners fearful, impatient, confused? What are their goals and how do they relate to the goals you have for them?

  2. Memorable. What value is learning material you won’t remember even a day or two past the posttest? Good posttest scores aren’t the reason for learning. It’s the ability, confidence, and readiness to perform valued tasks. We need to create learning experiences that stick with our learners so that they are able to perform at the right times.

  3. Motivational. You can’t learn for your learners. They have to do the learning themselves. That means they have to be paying attention, thinking, and doing those things that create knowledge and skills within them. It’s as important to inspire (read energize) learners as it is to present content to them, because, with insufficient motivation, all that content is going to evaporate, leaving scant residue.

While these principles are important for all forms of instruction, they are perhaps critical to the success of e-learning where working alone on a computer can become boring so very quickly when there’s nothing interesting going on. My biggest pet peeve is e-learning that is focused on presenting a boatload of content (the worst is pages and pages of text) and not on the learning experience. Isn’t a little effective learning better than a lot of wasted time? Trim that content down so you can create some high-impact experiences. Please.

(End excerpt)

Allen also speaks at length about common mistaken perceptions of what e-learning is supposed to do and how it is supposed to work, what really constitutes e-learning return on investment (ROI), and many other high-priority topics for this field.

If you’re interested in e-learning, definitely do not miss this article. Send it to your bosses, your colleagues, your training managers. Send it to the course provider every time you’re subjected to a boring, unrewarding e-learning experience. We must stop this plague!

SIDE NOTE: The theme of the Learning Circuits interview is aptly illustrated by the flash intro the Web site of Allen’s company, Allen Interactive. Usually I detest such geegaws as flashturbation, but this one succeeds big-time. Actually, the site’s home page rotates several different flash intros, they’re all good. keep reloading the page until you see the one that starts with “Boring e-learning.”