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E-Learning by heart

July 31, 2009

I’m the type who believes that if something is good for you, it doesn’t necessarily need to be a ‘pleasant’ experience. Take for instance castor oil, not known for its sweet taste. Let’s face it. It’s downright obnoxious. Yet we take it ourselves and we give it to our children, because it’s healthy and good for us.

The same goes for learning. The main objective, where I’m concerned, is to keep in mind that when setting up a learning program, it has to effective. And you have to obtain your overall learning objectives. All else is for the benefit of this.

There’s an ongoing discussion with marketers, account managers and other sales professionals on one side versus educators and course developers on the other. The forever battle between ‘Marketing’ and ‘Content’. That’s why an article like Advertising and eLearning: Can You Spot the Similarities? published earlier this month, by RK Prasad on CommLab India eLearning Blog, somewhat rubs me the wrong way.

As a fervent advocate of educational values and didactical objectives, I believe that the heart of learning is the content, not the packaging. My problem with what’s discussed in this article is the easy assumption that we can project marketing principles on the development of learning material.

Prasad proposes to juxtapose the AIDA model (attract Attention – gain Interest – create Desire – and precipitate Action), when designing and developing E-Learning modules. This model, the basis of many advertising campaigns, in my opinion should remain just that.

There’s nothing wrong with using it in the communication phase of a learning project, to alert and entice the learners to the program (the finished product). But at the onset of a project it’s not a good idea. You risk the model in itself becoming the objective.

My personal experience is that generally when Sales intervenes with the design and development of a learning product, it very seldom works out well. It becomes a matter of a marketing push over a didactical pull. Fun-fun-fun seems to be the key word and you end up with a very slick and pretty but hollow product.

The fact that digital learning offers a numerous amount of technical possibilities is somewhat to blame. It blinds most sales professionals. They act like little children lost in a candy store. Especially now with all that what we can do using web 2.0 services. They want any and everything. The shinier the better. They drop all learning objectives and didactical backings and go straight for the gadgets.

What I look forward to, is the day that E-Learning management recognises the need for the right balance between content and presentation. When they, in an epiphanic moment, realise that educators must be involved at the onset of a project. That the team setting up and finally pitching an idea to a prospective client, must consist of at least one educator in a leading role.

And to all you prospective clients out there, demand to know with each E-Learning presentation, what the didactical foundations are. Inform yourselves of the team’s setup. Be assured that the educators play an important role in the development of your product. Steer yourselves clear of a nightmare roller coaster ride, where the result is an amazingly (expensive) piece of technology, but at the same time an amazingly ineffective learning tool.

When all is said and done, we all know: Marketing sells — Content binds.

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4 Comments leave one →
  1. Niels Plugge permalink
    August 24, 2009 14:57

    What troubles me about your article is that you blame “the marketing concept” for the shiny and hollow e-learning concept. Marketers should always (and maybe even mostly) consider the product (content) they are trying to sell and amend it in such a way that it connects with the customers. There’s nothing wrong with marketing a product, as long as you do it right…


    • August 24, 2009 17:00

      Dear Niels,
      You’re right. There’s nothing wrong in marketing a product (the right way). And I’m not against that at all. What I believe though, it’s not the marketeer’s job to amend an E-learning product. That’s the educator’s job.

      We should work together as a team and support each other. I don’t tell a marketeer how to do his job, so I expect him not to interfer with mine. The content is at all times the responsibility of the educator.

      My problem lies with the fact that because of a Sales-triggered trend, there are marketeers out there who feel they’re allowed to “amend the learning content”. This really bothers me (for reasons explained earlier).

      I don’t see ‘customers’ I want to sell to; I see ‘learners with a need to acquire knowledge’. And I oblige them. That’s the big difference.

      Niels, thank you so much for your comment.


  2. August 2, 2009 17:43

    Via your LinkedIn profile I noticed this article. I agree totally. The emphasis in marketing e-learning today is on the packaging and the learning theories which should be considered when purchasing e-learning are often secondary.

    Unfortunately I believe selling e-learning is tough. And as a seller as well as a purchaser of e-learning, you are more attracted to the flash, animation, pretty colours, etc.

    It is in my opinion not an issue that the e-learning is full of media and pretty colours, as long it is balanced and supports the learning process.


    • August 2, 2009 18:30

      Dear Danny,
      When there’s no heart for the learning (content), it is always a tough sell. Worse yet, even a ‘No-Sale’.
      E-Learning is more common nowadays and clients are more savvy. If you’re just selling a shiny package, without a didactical backing; they’ll know.

      The only ones who are (very) slowly awakening to this new reality is E-Learning Sales.

      Thank you for your comment.
      Greetings, Evita.


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