1996, Patrick Crispen created the most popular elearning workshop
of all times. Within a year, it attracted over half a million
students from 120 countriesalmost 100,000 learners in its
first few months. The program was called the Internet
Roadmap. Patrick announced the workshop one night, went to
bed, and by the next morning 2,300 people had signed up.
the throngs of people taking this class, you’ve probably never
heard of Patrick or his program. That’s
too bad because the Internet Roadmap taught me how to use the
Internet and that, without a doubt, we can learn online. It’s
also too bad that few current-day elearning programs follow this
program’s model: that of a roadmap, taking full advantage of the
web’s non-linear nature.
many modern-day Programs squander a wonderful resource (the Internet)
to reproduce two of the most limiting instructional models¾classrooms and manuals¾and replace them in equally, if not more, limiting ways.
They ignore that the Internet offers learners the opportunity
to go anywhere, link to a vast array of content based on what
they find interesting (and are therefore motivated to learn more
about) and see things in entirely new ways. They try to control
the environment and, too often, limit the experience. Our thought-patterns
are not linear; why should our education programs be?
am sad to report that there are so many yippi-I-can’t-wait-to-turn-another-page
web based tutorials and classroom-over-the-web tools that elearning
has become synonymous with poor-quality experiences and almost-but-not-quite-useful
No wonder scores of people ask me if we can even learn online. Vendors are trying to replace something
that had limited benefit to begin with. Move it online and suddenly,
it will become worthwhile? Even if you were raised in a barn,
you know better.
many years, I thought I was the only one underwhelmed by online
learning programs (the title elearning came much later), but recently
the bashing has become deafening. Contrarian that I am, I thought
it time I point out it’s not the medium, but the message, that’s
falling short. We can learn online.
fact, each of us visiting the web learns almost constantly. We learn where to find something we haven’t
seen before, we learn about a change in a stock price, what’s
happening in the news, and we decide what we want to see again
and which sites we won’t be visiting again soon. If this isn’t
learning, what is it? The question those people are asking me
is not really, “Can you learn online?” but, “Do elearning programs
help us learn?”
To that I have a mixed response.
programs vary in quality and capabilities. Some meet the learners’
needs: many don’t. But if you, as a learner, program developer,
or business leader don’t take the time to understand the different
ways learners take in information and why they seek to learn,
it's unlikely you will benefit from the Internet as the greatest
learning mechanism of all times.
let me revise what I said earlier. We can learn online¾but
we may not always want to nor find it’s the best means to meet
our ends. Let’s look more closely at how learning works.
understand if we can learn online, we should ask, “Why do adults learn online?” That leads to
the inevitable, “Why learn at all?” Let’s take these in reverse
learn for a number of reasons. We learn because:
new knowledge brings delight, passion, and even power. Disreali
said, “The delight of opening a new pursuit, or a new course of
reading, imparts the vivacity and novelty of youth even to old
age.” Just about everyone at some time has realized that knowledge
can lead to power.
can provide an escape. Who hasn’t plunged into a good book
or web-surfing session to avoid doing something less pleasant
or engaging? Martha Stewart, the media mogul and hyper-homemaker,
has even begun to enrich her magazines and websites with mini-elearning
tutorials to supplement or distract you from actually baking that
offers adornments that can lead to higher perceived value in the
marketplace. Visited many doctors or lawyers without a wall
or two lined with diplomas. Met a Microsoft Certified Systems
Engineer who doesn’t work that achievement into his introduction
to all newcomers?
helps us achieve specific goals. Aristotle said, “A person
studies because of a goal to gain pleasure or glory.” We may study
to become a better farmer or business leader; to serve more effectively
as a citizen, elected official; or to know how to use leisure
wisely. Practical needs and problems have always given rise to
learning activities and thus to the idea that education is the
way specific and tangible goals are reached.
something is compulsory. Often times, learning interventions
are prescribed. Those in charge are sure that the value of education
is so great that anyone not willingly seeking it must be required
to do so.
Now, let’s examine
how people learn.
over these reasons for learning are the natural motivations that
Cyril O. Houle and Alan Toughs identified in the 1950s and 1970s:
people usually find motivation to learn something new because
they enjoy learning (learning-focused motivation); they seek relationships
that come from the social aspects of learning (social-focused
motivation); or they are learning to achieve a specific goal (goal-focused
motivation). You can see the overlap with the reasons, but what
Houle and Toughs observed was that these motivation styles are
more likely to work consistently for individuals across topics
and situations. In other words, individuals tend to have a motivation-style
that crosses all situations and influences why they like to learn
probably know someone who only learns to achieve a certain goal
and wouldn’t dream of learning something new for enjoyment. Likewise,
you might know someone who learns best when engaged in conversation
with many other people and is building relationships alongside
their learning. The first is goal-focused; the latter is socially-focused.
The rest of us think learning, itself, is exciting.
motivation styles and the reasons that people learn strongly influence
the next question.
Do Adults Learn Online?
you’re goal-focused¾learning to achieve a goal¾you are likely to reach for that goal through most any
means necessary. It’s the goal, not the means, which holds your
attention. In seeking the clearest path to your answer, you may
go straight for your computer and your browser window. Less tech-savvy,
goal-motivated people may turn to a library or expert: whatever,
and however, they can satisfy their goal.
who just love learning may turn to those same resources, but not
with the locus being the goal: for us, the experience of learning,
itself, drives why we learn. Those of us in this category often
feel frustrated with many online learning programs because we
spend more time on procedure and process than actual learning.
I’ve always found it interesting that it takes longer to learn
many of these programs than to master the content within them.
for you, learning only comes along for the ride¾you
meet people and interact with others and from that you learn¾you
are likely socially-focused and not likely to turn online for
learning at all. If you can’t get what Hal Richmond, Ph.D. calls,
“the juice of the experience,” the essence, and the feelings from
those you work with, you’re not likely to enjoy the experience
or really learn anything new.
addition to our reasons and motivation styles, learning styles
also influence how and where we learn best.
can describe learning styles in many ways, but the ones with the
most bearing on learning online are specifically known as perceptual
styles or perceptual modalities. (I’ll just refer to them as learning
styles). There are four: auditory, visual, kinesthetic, and tactile.
This classification recognizes that we take in information directly
through our eyes, ears, muscles, and nerve endings. Each of us
prefers to receive information using one of these senses. We may
have a backup (secondary) sense we prefer, but one is usually
dominant in each of us.
again, some styles are more suited for online learning. Most elearning
programs include pictures and graphs (best for visual learners);
all include words and audio clips (both preferred by traditional
auditory learners). It would seem we’ve met the needs of at least
two of the learning styles. Not
are two-types of auditory learners. Most take in information best
by hearing (either another voice or their own, heard in their
mind’s-ear, when they read.) The less-recognized type, however,
are verbal-processing auditory learners who do best when they
have an opportunity to speak and articulate what they are thinking.
people know intuitively that until they say their thoughts aloud,
they are not quite certain of their thought or its implications.
Many people need to hear themselves say it, argue it, discuss
it, and then they realize what would then follow and how this
thought fits in with others. These are the learners you’ve probably
heard talking to their computer screens or the characters in a
book. While it’s not quite the same as talking with someone else,
it is necessary for them to learn.
programs have even less for those who learn through their nerve
endings (tactile learners) or their muscles (kinesthetic learners).
In the future, there will hopefully be more opportunity for tactile
and kinesthetic learners with mobile,
wireless learning devices and more touch screens. Until then,
we’ll just hope that elearning developers include as many activities
as possible. This could include more actions with the mouse and
technology. Without these activities, we see a lot of gum
chewing and tapping feet while tactile readers scroll or press
all the buttons. More programs should also encourage these learners
to move about, stand up and walk around. Without those physical
elements, many of us are opening new browser windows and looking
at five web sites at the same time, doing whatever is necessary
to fulfill our movement quotient.
about all those bells and whistles (animated gifs and soft music)
that well-intentioned, trying-to-liven it up developers add to
websites and increasingly to elearning programs because they’ve
heard people enjoy all these trimmings? These gimmicks are more
likely to aggravate learners than contribute to the learning experience.
What sells because of its glossy seductiveness, often fails where
it counts¾retaining the learners and helping them get what they came
you can see, there are many issues to understand in order to answer
the question, “Can we learn online?” Learning and motivation styles
are just two of the factors. In the coming months, we’ll be looking
at other conditions for learning including:
difference between global and sequential learners
impact on pace and space
the computer display affects our ability to comprehend information
simulations and experience is required
effects of attention and memory on learning online
role that design plays in creating the right learning environment
We’ll review the
literature and research being conducted in these areas. If you
have other areas you’d like me to address, please let me know.
In the meantime, notice why and how some things appeal to you
more than others. As you share your own experiences, you can improve
your own learning. and also more effectively impact what others
learn. We can learn online!
Conner is editor in chief of LiNE Zine and CEO of the Learnativity
Alliance. She has been a leader in the cognitive revolution
for over a decade and is in the process of writing a book on how
learning influences life. Ask her questions or suggest another
angle for the rest of this series at firstname.lastname@example.org.