What is the Serious ELearning Manifesto?

Posted on Sep 18, 2014

The Serious Elearning Manifesto was put together by four of the most influential figures in elearning and launched on the 13th March 2014.

The figures in question are Michael Allen, PhD, CEO of Allen Interactions and ZebraZapps, Julie Dirksen, author of Design For How People Learn, Clark Quinn, PhD, of Quinnovation, author of four books on learning and technology and the first recipient of the elearning guild’s Guild Master award, and Will Thalheimer, PhD, consultant and research translator at Work-Learning Research, Inc.

The quartet teamed up to address what they saw as some serious pitfalls in the future of elearning:

“We believe that learning technology offers the possibility for creating uniquely valuable learning experiences. We also believe, with a sense of sadness and profound frustration, that most elearning fails to live up to its promise. We further believe that current trends evoke a future of only negligible improvement in elearning design – unless something radical is done to bend the curve.” (Allen et al.)

The team identified what they saw as the main characteristics and values of “typical elearning”, and pitted them against a new set of values which they derived as the distinguishing features of what they are calling “Serious Elearning”:

Typical Elearning Serious Elearning
Content Focused Performance Focused
Efficient for Authors Meaningful to Learners
Attendance-driven Engagement-driven
Knowledge Delivery Authentic Contexts
Fact Testing Realistic Decisions
One Size Fits All Individualized Challenges
One-time Events Spaced Practice
Didactic Feedback Real-world Consequences

The concerns about the merits of ‘typical elearning’ indeed are nothing new. Writing over a decade ago, the team at Towards Maturity were much concerned in their study Linking Learning to Business with some very similar issues:

“In today’s economic climate, business challenges include speed of change, quality, customer retention, revenue growth and cost reduction. Originally the marketing hype claimed that e-learning would meet these critical needs and more, yet a few years on many expectations have not been met with research showing that up to 60% of e-learning implementations failing.”

It seems then that not a lot has changed in the ten years since this was written. Mindful of this, Towards Maturity has leant its support as a signatory to the Serious Elearning Manifesto. The manifesto points towards 22 Supporting Principles of its claims to overhaul the face of elearning design and practices the world over, and Towards Maturity believe that these principles amount to the right call to action at the right time.

Elearning is here to stay

With 90% of organisations implementing elearning courses into their online learning strategies, there seems to be no indication that elearning is going anywhere anytime soon. Indeed, the time is rife for a shake-up – with so many employees accessing these courses across the globe, not another moment can be wasted in trying to refine the materials so that they are reaching the very best online education possible.

The Serious Elearning Manifesto takes into proper account the actualities of real business’s needs, and, what’s more, highlights the need to approach each company – and indeed each employee – with individualised content, never assuming that one size fits all, and that different people will always have different requirements and desire different outcomes from different initiatives. It’s the need for bespoke learning packages that the Serious Elearning Manifesto focuses a significant amount of its attention.

The real difference that the Serious Elearning Manifesto can make will only be achieved if elearning professionals take serious action and implement the principles into their courses across the board. They need to take into account the individual business’s needs and design their courses to improve performance and engage learners. Though importantly, it’s not only on the course materials that learners should be focusing their studies – what needs to happen, according to the manifesto, is for the elearning courses to truly reflect the actual real-world happenings of the business that they’re surmounting.

With this critical action taken, the new skills acquired by learners should not only be directly transferable onto the challenges of the workplace, but rather the courses should be designed and layered onto those challenges directly – in real-time if need be – so that learners can essentially see their new knowledge being put to use in actual, measurable terms.

Taking action

If looked at closely, it would be fair to say that there isn't really anything all that new in the Serious Elearning Manifesto. The Supporting Principles are really just echoes of what have been discussed for years. But the point of the manifesto is that it’s high time that learning professionals do more than just talk about what good elearning looks like, and start to take the necessary measures to implement the changes now. The manifesto has been produced in part as a means of creating a useable checklist for companies looking to apply outstanding learning principles to elearning design. Towards Maturity’s 2013-14 Benchmark indicates that 69% of learning and development professionals are looking towards elearning in their in-house development strategies, and yet only half of these professionals recognise that they have the skills to do it. The manifesto squashes those concerns.

The Serious Elearning Manifesto sets out all of the actions that all L&D professionals can follow in a clear, useable and referable catalogue, and, what is more, it consistently intones passionate reminders of the failings of the past in a manner that inspires positive change going forward.

There are always opportunities in every business to implement the very best practices in modern elearning, and the time is now for us all to stop talking about change and instead stepping up to the mark and making that change happen.

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