Rapid e-learning a couple of years ago caused quite a stir. It wasn't so much that it was a new thing, but more that it was finally better supported with tools, had a recognisable 'name' and finally this e-learning thing that some of us have been around in for years was finally starting to happen at last. The tipping point for e-learning didn't happen quite as early or dramatically as some of us may have predicted, but e-learning is now big business and is likely only going to grow from here as the advantages of using learning technologies are better understood and it becomes more common place in what we do. Rapid means fast right? I mean if you pull out your thesaurus (does anyone still have those?) and look up rapid you'll have fast and other such synonyms in there, but in the world of learning technologies prepare yourself for what rapid really means.
The Tortoise and the Hare; Once there were only Flash or HTML developers to produce elearning, they were very slow and methodical but always got to the finish line, although often even later than expected and at even greater cost. They were purists and specialists and were more akin to computer programmers than L&D professionals. Not only that, but they often were highly focused on the e and not much on the learning (remember my 90/10 rule!). Usually these courses were highly graphical, very very pretty and highly variable in learning content. As e-learning has matured so have e-learning developers, sometimes they're more agile (although we're certainly not talking rapid here) and the good ones either have a strong learning focus or they work with Instructional Developers (or IDs) to achieve a learning focused outcome. They get there. Eventually. Particularly if they have a highly iterative process that involves lots of QC/checking and back and forth to reach the overall goal of a beautifully crafted, interactive (sometimes and hopefully) piece of learning that you will proudly show off to any and every one that visits your organisation. They are the tortoise, they are rare, expensive and slow and often worth both the time and money. Then there is the other end of the spectrum, the hares if you will. Rapid e-learning developers who use the tools that the market place has now to offer like Articulate, Storyline, Captivate and the like. What you get isn't necessary lower quality either, some rapid developers are so good that they can literally emulate and even exceed the developers out there (or at least the poor ones!). This seems pretty easy now right? The hares must win the race right? Sometimes. The hares come with their own issues, sometimes what you get at the end isn't a win; what if it is nothing like you originally envisaged? What if it's unappealing, just page turning, Powerpoint in a mildly different way, completely lacking any interaction or just plain cheap and nasty? Then you either live with a result you know is never really finishing the race, or you run laps until you finally get what you're after. That's the pitfall and that's when we actually have a hare. What we often have is a tortoise with long ears, fluffy tails and a slant towards root vegetables; not rapid e-learning just masquerading as such - I refer to this as Rabid e-Learning (another one I should copyright).
Rapid v Rabid; Rapid is quick Rabid just makes you foam at the mouth and get angry, but what's the distinguishable difference? It's certainly not the tools involved, what you sometimes find is that Storyline or Captivate users are convinced that what they do is rapid e-learning because they use these tools. If e-learning production runs past days and a week or two then how rapid is it? When it runs past weeks and moves to months there's no way you can class this as rapid. It might be good, it might be bad, it may even be cheap, but it isn't rapid. Rapid e-learning often involves using stock or a bank of images and leverages off things like templates so that the more e-learning modules or courses you put together the cheaper it gets. One or two rapid modules in isolation may not be that cheap but a bunch should be getting cheaper by the module... so should the relative production rate of them. If you engage someone to produce 10 e-learning modules and the cost is 10x that of producing one then they're not being done rapidly. Ditto the time, if making 10 modules takes 10 times as long that's not rapid either. One of the key's to rapid e-learning is about engagement and particularly about getting that engagement in early on in the project and when it's being developed. One of the big problems with e-learning is that often the outputs really don't match what we expected, then there are lots of processes and iterations to get the expectations and outputs to align - this is where a huge amount of time is wasted.
There's one thing for sure here when it comes to e-learning; there are two main types and these are good and bad. That's more important than any other major classification, good e-learning can be rapid or it can be produced slower using specialists - the chances are greater that you'll get a better learning product if the skillset of those producing the e-learning consists of a balance of both tools skills and ID knowledge. If you have tools or developer people that don't think learning is part of what they do then the product will always be hollow; the focus as always should be on the learning not the e, hey it's 90% (roughly, see the title block) of what we do.