Thoughts on a

Thoughts on a “Controversial” Approach to Rapid eLearning Development

Editor’s Note: Mark is graciously allowing us to share his post in response to a guest post we featured last week from Tom Carter. I should also add that “controversial” was my word, and not Tom’s. Finally, the OpenSesame SCORM Video Player makes it possible to track video files in any learning management system.

One of the things that popped up in the Thursday #lrnchat was a note from the folks at @OpenSesameNow about a blog post talking about using video as a rapid content development method. I chimed in because I’ve had some success creating some quick & dirty assets to support our own rapid ID/Dev ecosystem. So with their permission and encouragement I am recording a few thoughts on the post and what it could mean to organizations and individuals.

The author, Tom Carter, is a senior Insructional Designer in the UK and – like my own employer – his has a genuine interest in rapid e-learning, so as I read through the post, I actually wasn’t surprised by what I read, in spite of the caveat that his opinions might be “controversial”. In fact, I didn’t find it controversial at all. Of course, that makes me wonder whether or not I’m as much of a “disruptive” innovator and experimenter as Tom is, or perhaps his ideas really aren’t as controversial on this side of the pond.

An emerging trend in workplace learning (not a new one by any means) is making use of the tools at your immediate disposal to create quick, low-cost, or no-cost learning assets & resources, and Tom uses a great example in YouTube. The sense that I get is that he’s really not pushing people to start broadcasting Jackass-type videos into the workplace, but more about using it as a delivery and hosting mechanism. In the same way Terrence Wing has been promoting the use of Facebook and Twitter as a delivery mechanism, Tom promotes this easy and accessible community portal and content in a similar fashion. As he notes, one of the benefits of this approach is that you can really stop thinking about learning as an event-driven and exclusive or restrictive phenomenon, and start enabling continuous, regular access to knowledge assets for your learners. Done correctly, you can also take advantage of the social aspects of this approach to engage and stimulate your learner community.

I shared a similar experience when looking for solutions to the platform certification we were putting together. While we had a number of quite handy reference guides, we wanted to try something faster. Tom’s comments about storyboarding and process remaining relevant but less intrusive certainly ring true in this case. As the resident platform expert I knew it was going to be my expertise captured and published for new platform learners.

Through a fortunate happenstance, I came across Jing: a very simple screencast tool that would incorporate voiceovers. The other nice piece of that equation was the ability to host through for a ridiculously low annual license fee. And so, a screencast star was born. The process was kept pretty simple. I had already created the standards and exercises for the various certification tasks, so my next step was to create a very simple script to use as my voiceover. The challenge with the free version of Jing is that you have to keep it to less than 5 minutes of recording. While I thought that might be really tough at first, it’s amazing just how much you can get through in that time and still make it effective. It also satisfies what I consider to be a basic requirement of e-learning for the modern knowledge worker: it has to be short, focused, and concise. The learners who have been participating in our certification program have indeed made good use of these video demonstrations and are capable of producing some really high quality e-learning content. We also use them for general learner support issues (the certification elements are really the exercises and the coached feedback provided).

So there are some drawbacks to this kind of method and where I think Tom’s post may fall a little short for an in-house implementation, and that is how we tie metrics and achievement back to business objectives, or even how we make use of relevant data from the platform(s). We may be able to get some raw, basic data on views, comments, etc., but there’s no direct interchange (that I know of) between YouTube and people management systems. So while metrics exist, it’s hard to make sense of the data when you’re doing it all manually.

We also have some limitations with respect to the video format because they are not as flexible for editing purposes. Now, with a 5-min limit in the tool I use I suppose it’s not that ponderous to re-record, but if you had a lot of assets that required editing to reflect a process change, interface update, or something similar, you may have a lot of work on your hands.

This isn’t a criticism of Tom, but more of an observation as I ponder the topic: the other acknowledged weakness of this approach as a sole source of instruction is that it’s demonstrative only. Learners will still need an environment where they can “fail” and still learn something. The screencasts and videos are great for showing “the right way” to do something, but it is still up to the learner to roll up their sleeves and try it out. So unless that kind of environment exists in concert with the informative or instructional assets, it may lose some of its effectiveness; particularly if you’re trying to use this method to support business-critical applications, systems, and practices.

With all that said, Tom is to be applauded for sharing what may be – to some – a radical idea. But if you strip it of the brand and any associated criticisms, the approach and process are sound. When you need to get some knowledge and skill demonstrated to your learner community, you could do far worse than to engage in this form of digital storytelling. If the social and “connective” aspects are in place, then you may have the foundation necessary to break the cycle of “death by PPT” or overly expensive solutions to simpler problems. Just be mindful that it’s only one tool at your disposal and that the other supporting elements need to be present in some fashion so you can truly make on-demand assets a reality.

Mark Sheppard is the Senior Learning Specialist for MindMuze, a learning services and innovations firm in Toronto. They are changing the way organizations develop and manage their e-learning portfolios with the SH!FT Rapid E-learning Ecosystem.  Learn more at and follow Mark on Twitter at @shiftguru.

Image Credit: StreetFly JZ on Flickr