Friday, June 24, 2011

How much should eLearning cost? Less.

The downward pressure to keep costs low is universal, whether you're talking higher ed or corporate training or eLearning as your product. The reasons are not all economic. There are expectations, I believe, rooted in natural but often unexamined assumptions. If you could tune into the internal monolog of your CEO, CFO, President, Provost, you might hear something like this:

"It costs what? Are you kidding me? I can pay a knowledgeable, competent person a couple of thousand dollars to develop a course and teach it in a classroom, and they're glad to have the money. Why do I need to pay ten times that amount to put the same thing online?"

Maybe that's not an internal dialog in your world; maybe it's painfully external. Regardless, the question is, what should it cost? And if it really costs 10 or 20 times as much to put it online, why does it cost so much?

I've developed a little chart to help explain what's happening here. Not to explain the cost of instructional designers or learning management systems or multimedia or video streaming. It's to help developers think about where they put their money. Because the reality is, when you decide not to invest in development, you are deciding to invest in delivery.

Take a look. What Line 1 says is that if you spend very little on development, the way you do when creating a face to face class, you're going to end up spending a lot on deployment, on delivery, unless your target audience is very small. Repeating that class over and over, paying trainers, faculty, maybe travel days, airfares... these costs become enormous over time. And if you just throw the course online for low costs, using the old "shovelware" approach, you'll pay through the nose for support costs and redevelopment, not to mention attrition.

Line 2 tells you the opposite. If you spend more on the development, creating it the right way online, you can deliver it to a lot more people a lot less expensively. And of course, a lot more consistently.

So you make the choice. Making it with eyes wide open means that you can and should choose your model, and adjust both the development and delivery costs to suit your needs. The classroom, Face-to-Face model gives you the lowest costs for development. The online, Self-Paced model gives you the lowest costs for delivery. Neither one is a good model for everything, but both are effective for something.

And then of course you can mix and match the models, building self-paced components into your online cohorts, or adding virtual labs or low-touch facilitation to your self-paced products.

My point is not that one particular model is optimal. My point is that if you are going to develop and deliver learning of any sort, you are going to spend your money somewhere. Spend it wisely up front, and you can lower your deployment costs and increase predictability. Don't spend it up front, and you are locked into the high cost of delivery.

Thursday, June 2, 2011

What you believe affects how you learn.

The headline says, "Disbelieving Free Will Makes the Brain Less Free." And the story line is simple... get people thinking about the possibility that their own unique ability to choose is compromised by genetic determinism, and they will do poorly on a "readiness" test. There are several interesting questions to be asked here, and several profound implications for learning.

1. What you believe affects how you perform. Want to enhance performance? Want to change behaviors? Start with your learners' underlying beliefs. And not just any beliefs, but their beliefs about themselves--particularly the "I can't do that" sort of beliefs. Don't waste your breath teaching them what to do or how to do it if you haven't focused on who they are, or who they will be, once they have mastered the knowledge and skills you're teaching. They have to see themselves as someone who can and will and wants to go where you're leading.

That may sound overly philosophical, or even arrogant. After all, you're not in the belief business. But think about it. Coming to a new belief about yourself is not necessarily a big deal or an enormously difficult process. Take a close look at something that may seem impossible right now (getting that next degree or learning to fly a fighter jet or defeating the dragon-monster on level 6), and then focus on whether or not you can see yourself as a PhD, or a fighter pilot, or the master of that video game. If you can catch a new vision of yourself, you're halfway there. You're motivated to do what those sorts of people do. Like the Marine Corps says, maybe you really can be one of them, but you first must identify with the outcomes. That's all a change in beliefs means. Who you are always drives what you do.

2. Some beliefs are clearly more helpful than others. I don't want to be Machiavellian any more than you do, but the fact is that some people's beliefs drive them forward and some people's beliefs dry them up, shrivel them all into themselves. The genetic determinism of Francis Crick, which was the bedtime story inflicted on the participants in the study, is a mind-numbingly thorough proposition that we are only the products of our genes, and there's nothing we can do about it. Not only your free will, but your very consciousness, your sense of self, is "no more than the behavior of a vast assembly of nerve cells and their associated molecules." What you think of as being "me" is nothing but neurons firing. These kinds of beliefs are clearly not helpful if you want to accomplish anything in life--or to teach anyone anything.

Well, you may ask, so what? Truth is truth, whether it is helpful or not. We have a duty to believe what is true. Yes, of course. But without getting too far off the point, let me just ask, doesn't it make sense to seek truth in the direction of life, not stupefication? In the direction of activity, not helpless inaction? This world, our universe, everything we see and feel and know to be true, is bursting with life and activity. Traveling down some dark and lonely path, away from what is robust and fertile and sunlit and active, away from the endless possibilities of life, just because someone with a high IQ once said that the Truth, capital T, is to be found in that direction--that's foolish at best, tragic at worst. When in doubt, I say, go with what works.

And besides, it's your job to make it work.

3. You don't have to change someone's underlying philosophy to change their beliefs about themselves. I was privileged to lead the charge in building an online nursing master's degree program with a great team of designers, developers, and content experts. Our audience research revealed a startling fact: while most of the candidates wanted to move up, to make more money, to get off the floor where the hours are long and the work is backbreaking, they also felt guilty about it. Their shared value system, what it means to be a nurse, was tied up in being a care-giver, in advocating for patients. They feared that by becoming managers or educators, the two career paths opened to them by our degree, they would lose this.

So we spent the first part of the orientation course showing them that in fact their reach would be extended. Far from abandoning their mission, they were now on a path to expanding it. This simple effort, probably no more than twenty required minutes of a two-plus-year degree program, made all the difference. We addressed their identity. We gave them the opportunity to see themselves with a new, improved identity, having a greater impact by reaching more people than they ever could before. We showed them they could stay true to their original mission and then some. And we played that theme out through the entire program. Measure that nursing program how you will--enrollment, retention rate, student satisfaction--it was an enormous success.

One more example: the military. Why is military training so effective? In many ways it is the gold standard for training, whether it's complex and computer-guided, or grunt-simple, they seem to know how to do it all well. My belief? It's because of basic training. It's that six to twelve weeks of rigorous, sometimes nightmarish activity, the purpose of which is to make you a soldier. Or a sailor. Or a marine. What is that but a very careful reformatting of the identity? I'm not saying the actual training isn't great. I'm saying that soldiers obey orders, and when the orders are to learn something they learn it. This is why applying military training to civilian operations sometimes leads to less-than-stellar results. It's not the training so much as the people being trained. You and I don't get to start with 6 weeks of boot camp for all our learners (unless, of course, you do). But we can all tie whatever our learners learn into their basic belief systems.

So whether you are training people to put widgets together or educating them to generate ideas to save the planet, focus first on how they think of themselves. Let them see themselves as a widget master, or as an idea generator. Take the time to make sure they have fully identified with their own outcomes. It will pay off enormously. What they believe strongly affects how they learn.