Elliott Masie, that shrewd and perceptive online learning mover and shaker with a worldwide reach and reputation, has finally stated publicly what many in the corporate learning world have known for some time but dared not reveal: ‘e-learning’ and ‘instructional design’ are disappearing.
Masie makes the point that job adverts for, and job titles stating, the terms ‘e-learning’ and ‘instructional designer’ are, as he puts it, ‘evaporating’. He writes: ‘Fewer corporate workplaces are using the phrase “e-learning” actively. Many are just calling the full range of opportunities “learning”. Others are moving towards greater definition of the process, such as virtual classrooms, webinars, e-books, MOOCs or online courses… I am credited or cursed with helping to introduce and popularize e-learning in the mid-1990s – but times change!’
Masie continues that, ‘There are many fewer [full-time, employed] instructional designers at major corporations. Some of this [work] has shifted to suppliers and vendors. And, some of the content is being curated, organized and published by people who are defined as content focused but not trained or tasked as “instructional designers”. Some organizations want to produce learning and performance content but not in a traditional instructional envelope.’
Not one to let ‘e-learning’ be his only notable neologism, Masie confesses to now using the term ‘learning producer’ as an alternative to ‘instructional designer’.
In speaking out in this way, Masie has risked incurring the wrath of the corporate online learning sector’s traditionalists, who would like to believe that the industry is still functioning as it did ten to 15 years ago. Yet, increasingly, that can’t be true.
For one thing, as the Ancient Romans said, ‘Tempora mutantur, et nos mutamur in illis’ (the times are changing and we change with the times). It’s inevitable that fashions and technologies change – otherwise we would still be using telex machines and carrying around brick-sized mobile telephones.
For another, online learning has become ‘mainstream’ – in the sense that it’s become an accepted part of the corporate learning and development function in a way that it wasn’t ten and more years ago. In addition, developing technology – especially the development of mobile devices along with the cloud – is making it increasingly easy to access, online, materials that would have been classed as ‘learning materials’ some years ago but are now ‘performance support’ materials because they’re available as and when required and are not part of a formal learning programme. Moreover, these materials are being produced by subject matter experts rather than professional instructional designers – or learning producers – thanks to the proliferation of generally available software that can create these materials.
In these challenging economic times, those commissioning learning/ performance support materials find it more cost effective to use this software and subject matter experts rather than involve an extra level of professional (the instructional designer).
Perhaps equally importantly, the growing popularity of social media and the increasing availability of video is providing ways of accessing learning/ performance support materials – via YouTube, Twitter, Facebook and even LinkedIn – which were impossible in the ‘old days of e-learning’. Times are changing – and traditional e-learning is now a long way from being the only online learning game in town.