e-Learning Push and Pull

Not long ago I was contracted to manage the development of an e-learning course using the Articulate rapid development tool.  During that time I came across Tom Kuhlmann’s Rapid e-learning blog and used it frequently for ideas and tips on getting the most out of Articulate.   If you’re not aware of it, the blog presents weekly tips on the development of e-learning using rapid development tools (usually Articulate).  Tom’s tips are always very creative and useful but they have typically reinforced more traditional e-learning design.  Usually that means a simple module structure something like the following:

  1. Present objective
  2. Present content
  3. Provide practice
  4. Assess objective

After my post on using authentic learning tasks in learning design, a colleague called my attention to a recent Rapid e-Learning Blog post “Are Your e-Learning Courses Pushed or Pulled?”.  The post represents a nice shift in direction away from e-learning convention.  In it Tom concisely describes how traditional e-learning courses “push” content to the learning when we really should be creating real world, authentic (my emphasis) problems and tasks requiring learners to pull learning content from a number of sources.

It’s a simple concept that can have a big impact.  But it does require a bit more thought and task analysis on the front end for instructional designers.  If e-learning designers began to take even the smallest of steps in this direction, the effectiveness of e-learning courses, and their acceptance by employees would improve dramatically.

Building e-learning content around tasks and problems improves relevance and motivation and with the right planning can decrease the cost of development.  The learning resources being “pulled” by learners to solve problems do not all need to be expensive highly interactive, media rich e-learning resources.  They can be simple documents, pod casts, web pages, simple videos, and short interactive objects that all contribute helping a learner solve a task.  I recently wrote an article for SPBT’s FOCUS magazine (Society for Pharmaceutical and Biotech Trainers) on a similar theme of simplifying e-learning while increasing it’s impact.  I don’t have a down-loadable version of the article but my pharma community readers will find the article in the Spring 2008 issue of the journal.  The article is titled Back to the Future: A Flexible and Cost effective approach to DPK e-Learning.

Tom doesn’t label the “pull” e-learning approach as “problem based learning using authentic tasks”, but that’s really what it is.   In fact, the “task” he uses in his example (installing crown molding) is a great example of an authentic learning task.  Here is how Tom Kuhlmann visually represented the difference between traditional (push) e-learning and problem or problem based (pull) e-learning.

I might put a task/problem at the centre of the “pull” illustration, but the message is the same–use simple problem and task driven frameworks to improve e-learning effectiveness, relevance and learner motivation. In doing so you can also allow yourself to finally apply your underused instructional design talents!

The most recent Rapid e-Learning blog presents 7 tips for creating better scenario based e-learning.  Sounds like a continuation of the theme.  Go Tom.


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