In Search of eLearning’s Magic Bullet

In my daily interactions with people in the eLearning field, I get the sense that many are looking for the “magic bullet” – that one thing that will solve all their challenges and help them meet all their goals for their eLearning. And, more often than not, they are looking to technology (e.g. authoring software, learning management systems, web conferencing tools, simulation builders, etc.) as being that magic bullet.

Go to any eLearning conference and you will see that the trade show is chock full of technology vendors. Participants eagerly troll the isles hoping to find the elusive and treasured magic bullet. The technology vendors themselves have set the agenda to a large extent and perpetuate the idea that the secret is in choosing the right technology. However, I am here to tell you that there is no one magic bullet in eLearning, particularly not amongst the myriad of tools available.

Sure, good tools are helpful (as they are in any task), but a tool is a tool is a tool. An excellent authoring tool can no more create powerful and effective eLearning, than a terrific multipurpose garden tool can create an amazing garden, or the newest table saw can create an exquisite cabinet. Why? Because it all comes down to the skill of the people wielding the tools and managing the project.

In my experience, you need people in three general competency areas to create great eLearning.

Learning Competencies

People who understand how learning actually happens and who can work together with subject matter experts to design and facilitate learning environments that engage, inspire and transform.

Technical Competencies

People who understand how the technology works and can take the vision of the people mentioned above and make it real, and make it work as it should.

Management Competencies

People who can manage the whole process: make the business case and ensure real organizational needs are being addressed; marshal the required resources and deploy as necessary; and evaluate effectiveness.

Have I won the award for stating the most obvious? You would think so. Yet, time and again I see organizations invest disproportionately in technology instead of people. The results are predictable: very mediocre eLearning.

The best tools that money can buy will not save you. I would much rather have talented people who know how to create effective learning, because they can make even the lowliest and cheapest technology come alive for learners. (Obviously, the ideal is to have great people using great tools, but I would err on the side of the former every time.)

eLearning is pretty much like any other endeavour. If it is of real value it is likely because there is a group of talented, dedicated, and hardworking people who created this value. Hey, could this be the real magic bullet?

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