Does e-learning lack eyes and ears?

I was interested to see that Skype has recently announced a partnership with LG and Panasonic, which means we will soon be able to buy a TV which we can use to Skype and browse the internet (find out more here). Promoting this new technology Skype’s business development manager, Jin Kim claimed that, “TVs have lacked two things to date… eyes and ears” because “they haven’t had cameras and they haven’t had microphones.” This led me to wonder… does e-learning also lack eyes and ears?

In fact, I think that many e-learning courses already possess ‘eyes and ears’ thanks to new technologies. Take mobile learning for example, where the learner progresses through the course and answers questions by speaking. Or how about social learning? Forums and help desks are evidence of an e-learning strategy’s ‘ears’ while the use of social networking points not only towards ‘eyes’ but also towards an age of collaborative learning that Skype and social networking sites’ popularity makes possible. And what about the advances being made in PC-based e-learning where we can now use techniques like 3D graphics, which allow the learner to pan around images and really become immersed in the learning? Surely highly interactive learning such as these examples could be counted as the ‘eyes and ears’ Kim is referring to?

This led me on to thinking that even if we do have ‘eyes and ears’ in our learning courses, does this actually enhance the learning in any way? For me, the following benefits come to mind:

  • A positive first impression
  • Learner engagement and motivation
  • More realistic scenarios and environments where the learner can safely practise making decisions
  • The ability to tailor the learning for different preferences, learning styles and capabilities

So far we’ve been focusing on how technology can give learning its ‘eyes and ears’ but I believe that this can also be created through instructional design. For instance, a scenario can be made more realistic by using well researched case studies written in a conversational tone. Or the learner can choose how they want to progress through a course by selecting to experience a certain scenario from a different point of view, for example, an interviewer versus an interviewee.

Kim’s thoughts about the evolution of TV are interesting, but I don’t think we can expect to see e-learning strategies reliant on cameras and microphones anytime soon. Instead, we should continue to vary the approaches we take and to be creative, rather than focusing only on the technology involved. After all, the most innovative graphics, interactions and technology will fail to engage the learner if the instructional design falls short.

(See Cat’s top L&D tip here.)