Nuggets of Truth from 25 Years of e-Learning Excellence

In 1992, a time when computers were mostly mysterious beige bricks and beepers and Walkmans were the height of technology, we filed our corporate papers to form The Quality Group. Today, almost 25 years later, we’re known as OpusWorks® and we are still helping shape the way people learn online.

Twenty-five years is a long-time. People often ask me what’s different. More often though, I explain what’s the same, that “we deliver great blended e-Learning for quality.” Yes, we have indeed been doing blended learning, exclusively, for our entire 25-year existence, and though the words to define quality have morphed over the years – SPC, Six Sigma, Lean, Process Improvement, Operational Excellence – the core principles haven’t changed. Then, it was our IBM originally produced SPC blended learning course. Today, it’s e-Modules in Lean, Six Sigma, Statistics, Project Management and Leadership that customers use, however they want, to meet their particular needs.

In keeping with the theme of “sameness”, I was curious about how my views of “blended learning for quality” might have changed over the years. I decided to dig up some of my old white papers and articles. Much to my surprise, I found some nuggets that might actually be insightful and perhaps inspiring to current-day readers.

The following are excerpts from a 2003 White Paper entitled: “e-Learning didn’t work. Now what? Go back to class!” As you read-on, and see the word “Six Sigma”, please think broadly about the many Process Improvement tools and techniques.

Nugget #1: e-Learning is a cultural change driver.

e-Learning represents a change in the way society has thought about education and training for hundreds, if not thousands of years. By now, most of us have seen enough data to know that there is huge savings potential for e-Learning. But if the e-Learning – either standalone or blended — isn’t equal or better learning, then why do it?

Nugget #2: “… e-Learning – designed and deployed properly – can indeed make Six Sigma training faster, cheaper and yes, even better.”

What if we set up a Six Sigma project on e-Learning to improve upon our initial e-Learning experiences? Let’s define customer expectations and measure, from the customer and/or learner perspective, what works and what doesn’t work. Build and analyze a flowchart of our training process. Use the data to architect process improvements and then control the new process to assure successively better outcomes. The truth is that e-Learning – designed and deployed properly – can indeed make Six Sigma training faster, cheaper and yes, even better.

Nugget #3: “… the quality of the e-Learning instructional design must not be compromised.”

Today (remember, this was written in 2003 … it seems like not much has changed!), our read is that most e-Learning content purchasers are gun-shy and confused. Learners are not objecting to the idea of self-paced e-Learning, but they do reject bad e-Learning. …

A lot of e-Learning today (2003! … again, is this still true in 2017?) is boring … really, boring. Unfortunately, organizations have only one chance to make a good first impression about e-Learning. E-reading, e-testing, e-presenting or even “e” PowerPoint® may make sense for some ‘learning’ applications, but for Six Sigma, low-level instructional design is inappropriate, ineffective and a waste of time and money. .…

Stay away from posturing e-Learning versus the classroom. E-Learning is a powerful way to augment and accelerate classroom time. But the e-Learning itself must be really good, and the quality of the e-Learning instructional design must not be compromised. …

Nugget #4: “… the only valid measure of what constitutes good e-Learning is how well it enables better human interaction.”

For most topics, e-Learning, alone, is simply not enough. To be successful, e-Learning champions must plan a blended training and implementation program before e-Learning rollout. We recommend that clients gain management buy-in to a plan consisting of 2-4 hour e-Learning blocks that precede team meetings with defined application objectives. The idea is that learners train independently, apply their knowledge in a group or class setting and then review their progress before moving onto the next 2-4 hour block. We believe that the only valid measure of what constitutes good e-Learning is how well it enables better human interaction. If the e-Learning fails to get people either ready for advanced in-class knowledge application or fired up to actively contribute to a project team’s work, then the e-Learning is probably not working!

Nugget #5: “Most agree that some mix of generic with customized learning objects is the way to go.”

Profound learning occurs at ‘aha’ moments. Different learning communities identify with different examples. A good joke to one group is a turn-off to another. Effective instructional designers must tailor material to a specific audience where ‘one size does not fit all.’ Most agree that some mix of generic with customized learning objects is the way to go. Unfortunately, what needs to be ‘customized’ for one learning community may be better as ‘generic’ material for another.

Today, the best producers include robust customization in their value proposition. Incorporating generic material into a template that is branded with corporate colors, executive message and logo is fairly standard. Less prevalent is the ability to reconstruct material and produce derivative courses by inserting pages, modifying text, editing graphics, re-recording audio and even replacing video, if necessary.

It is our experience that when an e-Learning course truly fits an organization’s needs, learners notice and take their e-Learning more seriously.

Today’s learners expect first-class e-Learning courseware that is fully customized to their specific needs.

Nugget #6: “How can good e-Learning benefit your organization?

But our instructor-led training is working well!

That’s great, your messages and methods must be right on target!

When the instructor-led process is working well, two questions must be asked: (i) what is the ROI if an e-Learning module can expand the reach of the materials, and (ii) if e-Learning does make business sense, then what basic, foundational material can be extracted from the course and off-loaded to good e-Learning?’

What’s your payback if more people can access your training? What’s the value if your core messages can be delivered consistently, every time, and everyone gets the same learning experience? Can some of your resources, trainer, travel, and overhead costs be recovered? Is the bandwidth and brainpower of SME’s better spent, with less energy expended on teaching the basics and more time allocated to project selection, mentoring, and driving cost-reductions?

Summary (Back to 2017)

As I reflect upon these nuggets from the past, I celebrate our company’s steadfast conviction – for the past 25 years – that e-Learning quality is the #1 predictor of blended learning success. I am also humbled by our 8-person content development team of artist, voiceover talent, programmers, script writers, and quality testers, and their commitment to developing and always improving our OpusWorks e-Learning so that we truly delight e-Learners. Thank you Brian, Christina, Dan, Jerry, Joe, Kyle, Lucy, and Tricia, for your incredible work.

Friends, I wonder what other timeless truth nuggets I will share with you soon. In the meantime, onward and upward as you pursue your own OpEx goals and objectives.