Interview with John Curran of the eLearning Network

Posted on Mar 06, 2015

Elearning

“As learning developers, we want to do things that make a difference but we’re failing to measure what that difference is.”

John Curran started out in elearning before the term even existed. Back then, it was called computer-based training with very few practitioners working in the field. Over the years, he’s become a leading expert and seen elearning develop into a staple resource for most L&D departments. As the new Chair of the eLearning Network (eLN), he’s taken on the challenge of reshaping the not-for-profit organisation to serve the elearning community in a time of change. 

What is your vision for the eLearning Network?

John Curran, Chair of the eLearning Network

When I first started out, the eLearning Network was a great place to meet other people who were ‘geeky’ about elearning. They wanted to talk about things like SCORM when no-one else was interested. I got a lot of value from that and thought it would be great to keep it going. But the eLN needed fixing because it relied on a paid event-based model and that was becoming increasingly difficult to sustain as pressure on L&D budgets grew.

So we took the decision to move to a different model where people can join for a low cost, attend events for free and get involved in our flagship conference, which is something I’m working on at the moment. We’re calling it an ‘unconference’. It’s aimed at elearning practitioners, focusing on what goes into making great elearning; less about strategy and more about doing. I’d love to make it an annual event where people do stuff rather than just sit and write notes.

A lot is changing all at once at the eLN with a new website, business model, webinars, events; it is a huge challenge. Late at night, I’m responding to my eLN emails because we have changed so much at once, but the eLN definitely needed a refresh. I’m hoping that what we are doing now will make it stronger, more accessible and more affordable. I feel we are going on a journey, and my hope is that by the end of this year, we will have created something valuable and fit for the future.

What frustrates you about the elearning industry at this current time?

I get frustrated by how we evaluate the effectiveness of a learning intervention, and I think this is one of the things we need to do better. As an industry, we should be able to identify whether what we do makes a difference to an organisation. It’s not always easy to track this, but we should at least make attempts to look at why we’re doing something and what difference it is going to make to somebody’s performance. Quite often, we don’t have this level of engagement with clients; they sometimes say they just want an elearning module without really understanding why they want it. Sometimes learning is just done as a nice thing to have. We need to guard against that and find ways of making sure what we do is effective so that it will be good for the client but also for us. As learning developers, we want to do things that make a difference but we’re failing to measure what that difference is.

Other than that, I think the industry needs to remember that learning is something that actually takes time. We’re in this increasingly fast-paced world but we need to be wary of squeezing things down into smaller spaces; it doesn’t mean that it’s going to be more effective. Real meaningful learning occurs over time so we have to take that into account when designing solutions. I also believe we need to rethink blended learning. I tweeted recently that 2015 is the ‘year of the blend’. By that I mean coming up with really interesting, workable ways to provide a learning intervention through a mix of elements; perhaps blending an elearning module with video or a game, for example. To me, that would be a real 2015-style digital learning intervention.

What’s your advice to someone thinking of going into elearning as a career?

That’s a good question. Well, there is now an apprenticeship in instructional design. I had a look at the curriculum the other day, and it looks very well-thought through. My only concern is that we are now in such a dynamic industry that terms like instructional design are starting to feel out-dated. I would rather call myself a learning designer which implies the requirement to think about the bigger picture before diving into a specific solution. Having said that, there is a lot of work out there for instructional designers and elearning is definitely a growth business. There are a range of career options within the industry, and as the complexity of solutions increases, there’s going to be demand for more and more people with higher level skills. For me, the new generation of learning designers are those who really get online, offline and everything in between. So when a client says they need a learning intervention, the first question is ‘why’ - that’s what I think we are moving towards.

For more information visit www.elearningnetwork.org

John Curran also runs an online learning consultancy, Designed for Learning

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