Rapid e-learning is a form of self-paced e-learning content that is developed quickly and intended to be accessed in short chunks and outside the context of a formalised intervention. Bersin and Associates define rapid e-learning as “web-based training programmes that can be created in a few weeks and which are authored largely by subject-matter experts,” although in practice the content is as likely to be developed by generalist trainers or external contractors, and could just as easily be assembled in days or even hours. The pressure is certainly on for more rapid responses to learning needs. According to a report by Bersin in 2005, “78% of trainers in the US are under pressure to develop e-learning more rapidly.” In the same year the eLearning Guild found that “72% of all training challenges are time-critical.”
If rapid e-learning is to live up to its name it requires easy-to-use tools and streamlined processes. Two types of tools have emerged to fill this need:
- PowerPoint-based tools: with these, much of the layout and structuring of the material is accomplished in the familiar PowerPoint interface; the material can then be extended to include narrations, quizzes, surveys and other interactions, and converted to Flash for delivery online. Examples include Articulate and Adobe Presenter.
- Software training tools: these make it possible to record software operations as movies that faithfully demonstrate every mouse movement and menu selection; the movies can be enriched with labels, explanations, questions and exercises, before conversion to Flash for deployment online. Examples include Adobe Captivate and Techsmith Camtasia.
Typical formal e-learning development processes are too cumbersome for situations requiring a rapid response. As Jay Cross explains, “Time trumps perfection. In the old days, training wasn’t released until it passed through a gauntlet of editors, proof-readers, packagers, double-checkers, and worry-warts – lots of training was obsolete before it hit the street. The net has taught us to value timeliness over relentless typo searching. Everything is a work in progress. If it’s not finished, label it DRAFT or Beta, but don’t hold it up. Think of a blog: part of its charm is its informality, the idiosyncrasies of its author, and its status as an opinion, not a law. People learn more when presented with material that is controversial because uncertainty engages the mind.”
So, although some planning is essential, the key with a rapid process is to get a product up as quickly as possible and to get this in front of real users. The product can then be continuously refined until it meets the needs precisely.
Where the rapid materials are explicitly instructional, they should incorporate the interactive elements necessary to ensure learning takes place. Alternatively they can be kept as simple expositions and used in conjunction with other, more interactive approaches such as short workshops, webinars or online discussions.
Good tools do not guarantee good content and so inexperienced e-learning developers will need some training. Recognising this, a number of experienced designers from around the world co-operated in 2007 in the development of the ’60-minute masters ,’ a course for training part-time authors. They recommended the following as the basis for the curriculum:
Set a realistic goal
Consider the content from the learner’s point of view
Hook learners in emotionally
Present your material clearly, simply and in a logical order
Illuminate your material with imagery
Use audio appropriately
Put your material into context with examples, cases and stories
Engage users with challenging interactions
End with a call to action
Rapid e-learning materials are:
- at their best when relevant, quick and simple, engaging and well supported by visuals;
- best avoided when abstract, over-long, too detailed and overly textual.