Saturday, December 10, 2005

E-learning: The Deadly Traps

By Asim Choudhury

Even while the Indian e-learning industry remains awed with captive technological tools and snazzy graphics, the actual elements of learning are being ignored, much to the dismay of serious e-learning players. And amidst such hullabaloo, international clients are slowly waking up to what can be termed as ‘e-learning garbage’ emanating out of India – all in the name of cost-effectiveness. Today, the industry, more than ever before, is witnessing an increasing demand for the actual dishes in e-learning – Content, competent SMEs and powerful Learning Strategies.

“The most pathetic person in the world is someone who has sight but no vision.” Helen Keller

The Indian e-learning industry is laden with issues – the most notable being the innoxiousness of a large section of e-learning professionals in India on what actually constitutes e-learning. The definition is different for different people. Some buy the idea that e-learning is mere chunking of content with graphics with a few questions strewn here and there. Some think that it’s all about flash animations – the more snazzy the better. Yet others think that e-learning means quick money. For the so-called brain truster, e-learning offers to serve as a platform for positioning their intellectual skills.

The Glitter of the Interface
Most e-learning entrepreneurs in the e-learning industry in India are people who get awed with the glitter and jazz in e-learning courses. They forget that what they see is simply one small part of the whole picture.

Globally, e-learning clients are no longer ignorant bunch of people who can be enamored by silly logic. Clients today have several levels of training experts onboard their training teams who are acquainted with the subtle nuances of e-learning. And, impressing them with captive raillery doesn’t make sense.

Indian e-learning professionals are now face-to-face with the harsh realities. They are now forced to forego their fancy ‘intellectual skins’ and deliver substantial quality. A rough estimate reveals that globally clients have lost several billions of dollars in buying what may be best called ‘e-learning junk’ from Indian vendors. The colours of the e-learning interface no more lure clients. At best they impress the nescient ones who are new to e-learning.

Plagiarism is Passe
Some time back a group of professionals were debating on what would happen if the Internet were to disappear from out lives. Amidst the viewpoints that were tables, one was particularly interesting – that the worst hit organizations would be Indian e-learning companies. The reason for this was simple. Most e-learning companies in India today vouch their supremacy n the basis of plagiarized content culled from the Internet.

Several e-learning vendors in India are now running for cover as more and more international clients are pointing to the use of plagiarized content and graphics. With such harsh comments from clients, most e-learning vendors have shed their garb of farce intellectualism and are getting their acts firmed up to contain plagiarism. But, is there any noticeable change ?

To understand the issue of plagiarism one needs to understand the actual reasons for it. Most companies select writers and Instructional Designers without proper evaluation. This again is driven by the fact that IDs are paid way below the standards and so companies do not want to loose on a ‘cheap resource.’ Once employed the IDs are instructed to browse the Net, download content and rewrite them. The content is then plugged-in onto e-learning frames to look like, what they push before the client as BRILLIANT e-learning course. But the client isn't impressed!

Vendors also need to distinguish between learning content and informational content. Learning content is to the point, carries a lot of meat, and is detailed. Informational content is generic, contains lots of preaching and is intended to awe the user – which is simply not wanted.

SMEs are the Real Heroes
Subject Matter Experts (SMEs) are the actual spices that add flavour, aroma and taste to e-learning. Unfortunately, Indian e-learning ventures are nascent – they are yet to realize the essence of SMEs for e-learning. Some companies do have onboard SMEs but that’s come about over a long-drawn trial and error process. The others are just hanging around the industry with few odd projects that is helping them sustain their costs.

The average e-learning company in India shares ‘weird’ processes and concepts about e-learning. And since the e-learning industry is not as systematic as the software development ventures, every Tom, Dick and Harry has an IDEA that is neither bought nor refuted. For instance, there were instances where some e-learning companies in Delhi had written off the role of a SME with the argument that they are fancy resources and are also very ‘expensive.’ No wonder, e-learning gurus in Indian e-learning ventures still believe that the role of a SME and ID are one and the same. Ignorance is bliss.

Good SMEs in India are found in top-notch institutions like IITs and IIMs and other research organizations. In the absence of an industry-academic interface such competent SMEs remain largely ignored. Although there are instances wherein some e-learning companies had attempted to hire these top-notch experts for content validation, the association has been mostly effete. After all, too longer an association with the resources from the intellectual realm is neither ‘safe’ nor ‘healthy’ for the odd bunch of self-proclaimed e-learning gurus in India.

In their own interest and the interest of their serious learners, it’s high time that clients start questioning the veracity of e-learning vendors in India. Its time that clients do some tough talk and force Indian vendors to sign a legitimate contract spelling out penalty clauses for serving the courses with ‘unwanted content’ and ‘styles’. They should make it mandatory for all e-learning solutions provider to spell out the competence level of the SMEs to be employed for a particular course.

Getting the Right Strategy
Disorganized people cannot think of strategy. In a scenario where much of the resources in Indian e-learning industry remain untrained and are ill-bred, learning strategies are difficult to come by.

Successful e-learning necessitates a powerful strategy. And it is pertinent that all e-learning strategies be grounded in strong research. Just the way a teacher would adopt a different style of teaching in a classroom setting for different groups of students, e-learning too essentially requires a good strategy that sets the platform for optimum learning.

Working on the strategy brings us to the realm of RESEARCH – a realm of the intellectuals. Where most resources in the Indian e-learning industry have a foreboding academic stint, one could help but wonder on whether these individuals can bear the onus of setting a good strategy for learning.

Getting the strategy for effective learning requires a deeper understanding of the audience profile, the technological ‘comfort level’ of the users and also their ‘attitudes’ towards learning. Studies on these aspects should be done at a micro-level.

Most e-learning professionals are not even aware that e-learning is Mass Communication – a communication that is very powerful when compared to the mass media. While the news products available in the mass media have a short shelf life, the shelf life of an e-learning course could span months, or several years.

Most e-learning companies in India do little or no research before involving in courseware designs. All they are aware of Bloom, Merrill et al – thanks to the Internet. Fortunately, so far most e-learning courses that have Indian companies were entrusted to develop were predefined by their clients and there were only a handful of cases where Indian companies ever got the opportunity to develop end-to-end e-learning solutions. Even with that the mess is all too much to describe.

Today, any attempt to seek the services of Indian e-learning companies should be well-researched and well-thought. A slight indecisiveness could land clients into the hands of ‘e-learning rogues’ who are teeming in India.


Anonymous said...

keep up the good work asim.i love what u write.u are boldly bringing out all the skeletonssssssss of this industry from the cupboard.wating for more such revealing facts from u.

MindGrinder said...

nice article very true i work for a huge MNC and they get us ID to do everything even development of courses

Anonymous said...

you are a piece of pakistan shit. If it not for Indians in, you would'nt be bogging here you muslim asshole

Anonymous said...

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