Wednesday, January 30, 2013

The Ghost of eLearning Future

During my 5+ years as an eLearning developer, I've continually wondered what our industry would look like if we didn't become entrenched in decade(s) old bad habits. What if we could truly embrace advances in web design and development, and not insist on CD-Rom era course structures and flashy... Flash?

Sure, we'll probably always be a bit behind the times, but glossaries? Tables of contents? Locked linear navigation? These kinds of book navigation metaphors were all hold overs from an era before the Internet went mainstream and people became comfortable with web technology (like scroll bars). The familiar concept of a book was a mental anchor secured in reality while one trekked into the scary unknown technology realm of the early 1990's. To me, this is as outdated a navigation structure as AOL keywords, so to still be using it so heavily in 2013 is beyond absurd. Yet it's unchecked prevalence is overwhelming.

Then, just when I had almost forgotten what it was like to be inspired as an eLearning developer, I came across Snowfall, a New York Times multimedia feature experiment. If you haven't, I highly recommend taking a few minutes to truly delve into it's splendor.

Each time I view compelling web content like this, it's like a visitation from the Ghost of eLearning Future to warn of all the cool stuff we'll miss out on if we continue our same tired old habits of eLearning past. I'm far from the first to say so, but nothing ever seems to truly shake things up.

Here are my main take-a-ways from the Snowfall piece:

This is what real HTML5 looks like.
Forget the marketing hype (or flat out lies) many vendors proclaim about tools publishing to HTML5. THIS is what HTML5 (and related web technologies) can do. We should expect nothing less for eLearning. To be fair, vendors are breaking new ground with HTML5 publishing options, so they need some time to work out the kinks. However, to only focus on replacing PowerPoint to Flash conversion with PowerPoint to HTML5 conversion completely misses the point in my opinion. Ditch the slides. Embrace the scroll.

This is the future of consuming content online.
Compelling storytelling. Well thought-out visual design. Multimedia content that reinforces text. Responsive page layouts and content (adapting to a whatever device screen viewed on). All of these work beautifully together, as they should. This is the future of web content, and it's wonderful. Let's get on board before we're left at the station.

This is what eLearning could and should be!
I'm willing to accept that as an industry, eLearning development will always lag behind cutting edge technology trends and even take a while to adopt established best practices. However, I'm not comfortable repeating the same past mistakes. In my opinion, we should push to make this new kind of content delivery a reality.

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