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What’s Wrong with Traditional Solutions Like Classroom Courses and Books?

Nothing. They’ll continue to work. Don’t throw them away.

Nothing was wrong with radio or movies either. While TV took over mass entertainment, radio programs and movies still exist for specific market segments.

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The traditional learning solution that still leaps to the mind of most companies is to gather everyone in a classroom and present the material. It might be a simple presentation-style lecture class or a full-blown class with lectures, hands-on exercises, and group projects.

Another traditional solution is to send a “how to” document (or book) to anyone who needs it.

Yet another traditional solution is to tell something to the company’s managers and then require that the managers tell the employees who work for them. This might be accompanied with a package of PowerPoint charts and some questions and answers so the managers keep to the main message. These traditional solutions have drawbacks:

  • The time it takes to reach all (not just some) of the employees who need the training
  • The cost of reaching all (not just some) of the employees

Earlier technologies for learning at a distance included CD- ROMs, audiotapes, and videotapes. But the Internet is poised to overtake them within a few years because of (1) accessibility and (2) familiarity.

Accessibility: Previous technologies stored information on physical media. You had to physically ship the item (CD-ROM, tape, etc.) to the student. It could get lost in transit, or it could get left at work when the student wanted to study it at home. Or the student could spend hours at work waiting for the AV department to ship over a videotape player and TV set. And if the course material is updated frequently, the student has to be sure he has the most recent CD-ROM. The Internet, on the other hand, lets you get at the right training material from almost any computer, almost anywhere.

Familiarity: As more and more people use the Internet for e- mail and shopping, a lot of the technological fear factor will fade away. It’s already disappeared for the more technical stu- dents and for college students. While some unfamiliarity will remain, it should quickly disappear for most segments of the population.

Furthermore, most of the earlier technologies that could be widely distributed were one-way instruction. While a book on piano playing might be very complete, most people can’t learn to play the piano this way. They need an instructor for encouragement and feedback and to point out when they’re using the wrong fingering. Not to mention timing, volume, smoothness, and emotion!

You can think of e-learning over the Internet as being a lot like television in the 1950s. At that time, most people got their entertainment from movies, radio, books, and magazines. But television has taken over much of the mass entertainment market. Movies, radio, books, and magazines are much more niche players today. But it’s important to point out that movies, radio, books, and magazines have not been wiped out completely. And in the same way, earlier technologies and methods for learning will not be wiped out by the coming of e-learning. They will all continue to exist side-by-side, with e-learning taking up more and more of the lion’s share of the market.