Question: Are you aware of any well-known pitfalls that companies should watch out for as they get started with e-learning?
Steve Rae: The biggest pitfall is to define e-learning just as CBT
(computer-based training). It's to assume this kind of experience: Go out, find a Web site, find a course, play the course, track student results. But I think that e-learning is really far more interesting than that.
I think that e-learning is about learning being pervasive. It's about using instant messaging to find an expert to answer a question right now. That's impact learning.
I think you have to look at e-learning as a much richer, pervasive presence in an organization that can make a profound impact. That thinking is embodied in the IBM 4-Tier Learning Model.
Question: Have you taken e-learning courses yourself? What was your experience?
Steve Rae: I've experienced many, many different kinds of e-learning.
I personally don't like the traditional CBT experience, although I think that's getting better too.
I really think the power of e-learning is in the live experience. There's something that's engaging about having a live, knowledgeable subject-matter expert—a human being. And some of the best e-learning experiences I've had have been at the hands of a very good e-facilitator.
The next thing that's just coming to the forefront is "immersive simulations." It's like the video games that I see my kids play where the game creates situations that they problem-solve around. The thing that fascinates me is that they may fail four or five times before they get it right, but once they get it right, they know it. The way that the learning has taken place, they know it with very high retention. I think the powerful learning environments will provide things like that, in contrast to "Here's some material, memorize it, because I'm going to ask you a test question on it." What I'm talking about is anything that is procedure-based, that has a flow to it with things you have to do. Like the sales process. This tests your ability to apply knowledge, not your ability to memorize information.
Question: If you were sharing a taxi to the airport with a CEO of a company who wanted your recommendations about e-learning, what would you tell that CEO?
Steve Rae: I would say to take an inventory of all the business initiatives that you have tried, and make an assessment of where the lack of a learning strategy had an impact on the failures, or the presence of a learning strategy had an impact on your successes.
Find the role that learning had to play, and look at how e-learning could make the successes better, and how e-learning could displace the failures.
Question: If you were to look ten years into the future, what do you think the e-learning situation will be like in companies?
Steve Rae: When I look down the road, I look for a huge amount of interoperable content. You're going to be able to tap into every publisher's content, and it's going to interoperate so you will be able to build learning sequences that are based on this huge amount of content.
So we will be able to realize the notion that is being driven through SCORM standards organization and the other standards communities today. Although I don't necessarily believe that the only path to this goal is through the standards organizations— there may be people who chart a slightly more controversial path that shortcuts our way to this huge, interoperable content.
Next is the idea of high bandwidth media, whether it be live video cameras or whether it be video on demand content. High bandwidth media will play a profound role for e-learning in a way that it doesn't today. The fact that you'll be able to get a video on demand, on any subject area, and have it delivered to your desktop is very important.
The other thing I think of for the future is that rather than cataloging content, we will eventually be cataloging people's expertise and interorganizationally will be able to find, receive, and pay for that expertise. The notion is that if I am having a problem in a Lotus 123 spreadsheet and I'm having a problem with a formula, that I can instantaneously get access to a spreadsheet expert who can view the problem I'm having (looking virtually over my shoulder), edit the formula, and get me going again. It's human-based, expertise-driven performance support. I think this will be a derivative of and a convergence of instant messaging, collaboration, live virtual classroom, and application sharing that will eventually shorten the time from "I have a problem" to "getting the problem solved." I think this will profoundly change the face of e-learning in the future.