Break the eLearning Cycle

For most of us, our lives involve repetition. It gives us a sense of comfort and allows us to enjoy the little things. It provides a sense of security so we can plan ahead because we know what is coming up next. Repeating gives us the control we so desperately desire.

We all know of the standard eLearning format. First is the title slide, then objective screen, content, assessment, rinse, repeat. It includes previous/next buttons, and sometimes closed captioning. It’s funny how similar eLearning can be when it’s being developed by such different developers for different content areas and different learning audiences. The reason behind why this format is still being used today varies from not knowing any other way, to push back from the uninformed, to the old phrase “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” But I’m here to tell you that it is broken and we definitely need to fix it.

To be fair, this format works for some areas. It definitely has its own use. But just because it works for content area A, doesn’t mean we have to repeat it for areas B through Z. This is a very traditional classroom type of mentality that many people are familiar with. This is a repetition of what they are used to, and now it’s being used to develop similar experiences. If we stick to only this way of handling eLearning, we lose out on a lot of opportunities to enhance the learner’s experience.

Let’s see what we are losing out on when we are pigeonholed into this type of mentality.

We lose a sense of discovery.

To be able to explore and to freely click around without a definitive linear progression has its own merits. The learner feels that they are in charge of their own learning. When they learn something new, the choices they made will stick with them instead of a rigid outline set before them. Your audience can differ wildly from one to another, so wouldn’t it make sense that the things they find meaningful differ as well? Having the option for them to choose what is important to them can make for a great learning experience.

We lose any hopes of freedom.

Imagine being stuck listening or reading a course about how to make ice cubes—the process behind freezing, different kinds of ice cube trays, and instructional videos that show you how. Most people know how to perform this task, so would you find it frustrating that you are still required to listen and read about something you already know how to do? What if you were just handed the test and you could take it immediately? You could prove that you know the knowledge you needed to know, and move on without wasting any time. The course becomes more dynamic and less of a presentation of information.

We lose customized learner experiences.

Now imagine you start taking an assessment on biochemical engineering. The question reads

Lysozyme is naturally present in
A. Egg Whites
B. Bacteria
C. Tears
D. All of the Above.

You answer A when the correct answer is D. Imagine you go on for a few more questions but you get each one wrong because they are too difficult for you. Or you are unable to practice these concepts before taking the assessment. This could lead to a high level of learner frustration. Being able to adjust the questions that appear based off the learner responses is a very real concept that can be implemented in today’s eLearning. Imagine being able to not only report on the learner’s assessment of right and wrong, but being able to report on the right and wrong responses of easy, normal, and difficult level questions.

We lose real world scenarios.

Basic eLearning as defined above does not include dynamic assessments such as scenario based problems, or real world cases that can be turned into an eLearning assessment. Losing out on real world applications is a huge loss for the learner. Being able to practice in a safe environment and get feedback from their input is such a great tool for them to experience. It gives them insight into their own knowledge, and expands on what they need to know in order to be successful when applying their skill or knowledge to real world applications.


When developing future courses be mindful of how repetitious some of them can feel. Being aware of what we can improve and how we can reach that next level of eLearning is something all learning designers and developers should be striving for. Repeating the same course design over may feel safe because we all know the outcome. But never trying something new, means never having the opportunity to grow our learning experiences into something greater.