The one-right-answer problem

Good e-learning designers will build activities where they don’t give you the right answer straight away. They’ll take you through a real life scenario and ask you to make decisions step-by-step. But whichever path they take you on, in the end, they most likely want you to get the right answer – the only right answer suggested by the ‘expert’.

All the Articulate modules developed by DynaMind eLearning are created in this manner too. It’s the way self-paced e-learning software is built and clients expect it to be like this.

For compliance training, this works fine. But how much professional development is compliance training? Very little in relative terms. Very few essential skills in the workplace have one right answer. Life – including life in the workplace – isn’t made up of one-right-answer problems. Yet more and more professional development programmes are designed like compliance training. Why? Because it’s easy to develop and the software makes it look pretty too.

When we help people develop skills to become better professionals, we often need to guide them to think critically, solve problems and empower them to take action and make a difference. None of these skills fall in the ‘compliance’ category.

When people develop these complex skills, they need a ‘voice’ to be able to share their own challenges and suggested approaches. They also need multiple sounding boards – not just comprehensive pointers from the e-facilitator, but (equally important) the constructive feedback from fellow professionals.

A lot of e-learning is designed around one-right-answer problems, yet this does not reflect the complexities of the workplace. Very little professional development can be covered by compliance training.

Answers to complex problems need to be complex as well – just like in real life. Not one answer, but many possible answers. Participatory face-to-face workshops respect this reality. A good e-learning environment needs to do the same.

So let’s stop pretending that life is made up of one-right-answer problems and design e-learning that way. Use Articulate and similar software for compliance training only. For other professional development, explore different e-learning models, including social-constructive approaches. And in case you’re looking for an easy shortcut: adding a webinar to include the learner’s voice isn’t helping either – webinars are too restrictive and too instructor-centred to be able to empower.

In-depth professional development requires design approaches that respect adult learning principles, including giving learners a voice to come up with their own solutions to complex problems in the workplace. Only then can these programmes have an impact.

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