Wednesday, 25 September 2013

5 Ways to Have an Epic Fail in e-Learning

If something's worth doing badly it's worth doing really badly.  You don't just want to create a so-so piece of e-learning and regret the missed opportunity of creating something truly awful - with a lack of thought and by ploughing good money after bad you can probably aim lower still.  Here's the way to make sure it's a resounding failure:

Squeeze the budget to the Nth Degree
So there's an old adage that get what you pay for.  I like to modify this slightly and add the words 'at best' to that statement, because if you're lucky (or you picked the right vendor) you'll get the e-learning you planned for (and may even be pleasantly surprised by the outcomes).  But one sure way to make it fail is to take the original quote from the provider and then trim it violently.  Most vendors will have some options that they can cut out, in my previous post on the 'cost of e-learning' you'll see there's various gold, silver, bronze type options that they can cut.  By cutting budget you'll likely see a drop in interaction (more page turning, less doing), less content in total (less screens), less animation/graphical niceties or worse still a drop out of any instructional design so you get a pretty but empty display piece.  This is bad enough if you're doing a bulk of modules, but if this is a single piece or your impact piece you've blown it if you've squeezed too much.  Cutting the budget in half is a pretty big cut down but as an e-learning provider I can understand that sometimes the budget is what the budget is, but cutting it down to 25% or less is a sure fire way of failing with style.

Don't provide access to anyone in your organisation
Make sure that your e-learning vendor (or even internal designer) doesn't get to speak to the SMEs (subject matter experts).  Give them some documentation or better still an old and inaccurate Powerpoint presentation to work off and let them get on with it.  You'll get something at the end for sure, only it won't be or feel like the end, instead it will feel like the beginning of it as you repeatedly have to make changes to the content and design to match what is actually required.  There are jobs that work well in a vacuum but frankly, e-learning design isn't one of them.  If you can't manage complete isolation, try giving them and SME then taking that one away and providing a different one (preferably from a different part of the organisation with different knowledge) to keep them on their toes.  If you can create a string of wrong people it can be even more devastating and disruptive than no-one at all.

Do it all in-house without the right tools or personnel
All this newfangled e-learning nonsense is actually really simple right?  You don't need to pay a vendor tens of thousands of dollars to sort out what your internal team can do for free!  Particularly when they are experienced in the subject matter and one of them used to even do some training once - or perhaps you have trainers, surely they can make e-learning?  It's hard enough even if you have a team and have purchased one of the excellent tools for rapid e-learning development like Articulate Storyline (read my article on Rapid or Rabid e-learning), but without these it's just not really going to fly.  Add in the fact that the people you get to do this probably have other 'real' jobs to do as well and your e-learning piece is likely to be a real dog's breakfast if it gets completed at all.  Better still get one inadequate under tooled person and just like in the example above make sure they hand the project over half-way through to do something more important (particularly if you discover by some lucky way that the first is any good), remember we're aiming for epic on the fail side of things.

Make all the key decisions without advice
e-Learning is a pretty specialised area of the training, education and learning fields, but don't let that discourage you.  If you truly want to make a hash of it you can avoid all the advice proffered by the e-learning vendor and your internal trainers and even SMEs to get something that fits your needs exactly.  The other people that are definitely worth ignoring are IT - if you can find a way to make the object almost entirely incompatible with your internal systems you can notch the failure up another level.  Remember there's a good deal of difference in getting what you want and getting what you need, make sure you are fully hands on at every design stage, every decision right down to the colours, graphics and even layout of every item on the screen.  Your team and the vendor will love the big screwdriver approach as micromanagement has always been incredibly popular with the minions.  Of course you reserve the right to be totally disappointed with the outputs that have your dirty fingerprints all over it, no point in having double standards and not using both of them!

Make no decisions at all
At the opposite end of the spectrum but equally as destructive is the complete hands-off approach.  It's not just about providing no decision making to keep the vendor/designer on their toes, but also provide no initial guidance, no help at the scoping stage, no input on anything throughout the entire design and build.  Just like too much control, none at all will confuse the team as they're going to be working in the dark throughout.  Again, just like above you reserve the right to turn from not interested to highly critical at the end - who was leading this mess of an output?  Why why why?  Perfectly reasonable when designing really bad e-learning.

Finally, it should be noted that actually there are a gazillion ways to really mess this sort of thing up and I've only touched on a few; I'm sure there are others that can cause some pretty catastrophic outcomes too - perhaps pouring money in without any clue can be as dangerous as cutting the budget, but I guess it would probably at least look pretty.  Of course, you shouldn't actually take this as a challenge to produce the worst possible e-learning you can!