Alan Nelson, of Nelson Croom, which won an E-Learning Age Award last November, has now clarified in print his thoughts – delivered at this year’s Learning Technologies conference – on ‘the good, the bad and the ugly of e-learning’.


He argues that, before deciding on what is ‘good’ and what is ‘bad’ in e-learning, we need to acknowledge that we’re all different (Of course, to quote the well known riposte to this sentiment from a lone voice in the film, ’Life of Brian’: ‘I’m not’), so our experiences and preferences will be different. Moreover, we’re not even consistent about the way in which we’re different – and that means that our preferred learning style will change from situation to situation.


Nelson goes on to argue that e-learning has never risen beyond the lowest two levels of Bloom’s taxonomy as applied to the cognitive domain (remembering and understanding). He maintains that e-learning materials should not only address the higher levels of this taxonomy (applying, analysing, evaluating and creating) but also address Bloom’s taxonomy as applied to the affective domain – which attempts to explain the way people react emotionally and, thus, change their attitudes and behaviour.


Some 25 years ago, two researchers – Malone and Lepper – looking at factors affecting intrinsic motivation, said: “It seems a frequent assumption that learning (and, now, e-learning) is boring and unpleasant drudgery – something one endures only to avoid punishment or to achieve some goal, such as a high-paying job.”


Their answer was to come up with seven factors affecting intrinsic motivation: challenge, curiosity, control, fantasy, competition, cooperation and recognition. Thus, people are motivated: when they are working towards personally meaningful goals; by the discrepancy between present knowledge or skills and what could be achieved; when they can control what happens to them; when they can imagine relating what they are learning to real life settings; when they can compare their performance favourably to others; when they can feel satisfaction from helping others, and when others recognise and appreciate their accomplishments.


This is what ‘good’ e-learning should be, says Nelson, who then outlines three dangers for e-learning:

  • If was already bad, putting it online won’t make it better
  • Just because it works well in a different medium doesn’t mean it should work well online
  • ‘Putting learners in control’ means more than merely letting them click the ‘next’ button


Comment: According to Jacqui Nelson, of Nelson Croom: “We’ve made it a bit of a mission to try and raise the bar in the industry.”


That, of course, is highly commendable and Alan Nelson has made some good points in outlining his view on how to spot the ‘good’ and the ‘bad’ in e-learning materials. However, the growth in popularity and use of rapid authoring tools, combined with today’s economic challenges leading to cost-cutting wherever possible, means that subject matter experts – and not ‘professional e-learning developers’ – are taking control of producing e-learning content. The days when the person who’s developing e-learning materials will know about Gagne, Reigeluth, Maslow et al – let alone understand and apply their various teachings to the e-learning materials being produced – are fast disappearing.


We are entering a new era in e-learning content creation. Immediacy and expediency, not instructional design fidelity, are the new watchwords. After all – as Nelson says – e-learning today is really only about addressing ‘remembering and understanding’. At such a low level of cognition, maybe any old approach to producing learning will do.