As somebody who's a bit semi-detached from the e-learning mainstream now (as I struggle to combine digital creativity and e-learning design and still pay the bills) I think I've got a better perspective on what the real world thinks of e-learning.
This came to mind when I was reading Kate Graham's interesting post, part of which deals with how we - learning technology advocates - attract the attention of execs in organisations. My first response was something along the lines of "well...the reason they don't pay attention is because out in the real world, e-learning's reputation is at best patchy...e-learning is regarded as something you have to do if real training isn't available". So, I know this is a bit unfair. And I know that there's research that shows we're not doing too badly, but I've still to meet anyone, in any non-training environment or organisation who, when I say I'm an e-learning consultant says a) I know what that is and b) that they really approve of what e-learning is and does. Most still regard it is an obligation and a pain.
So is it all about providing compelling business arguments for execs? I'm not sure. Over the years we've heard so many gurus talking about how to take a more business-focussed approach to training. We've read so many times about having to provide business metrics relating to effectiveness of learning. Sometimes this works. But I wonder whether we're attributing to these senior folks more pure rationality than is typically the case. Of course business arguments matter; they're necessary. But I don't think they're sufficient. Just trivialising my argument a little, think about how many investments are made by Dragons Den investors on purely emotional grounds. Think about how Alan Sugar makes his decisions. Purely data-driven? Not really...
What's going to sell learning technologies to senior execs is when they themselves feel it working and changing their own lives; when it's integrated into how they learn. The amount spent per person on senior exec training is a completely different order from those elsewhere in organisations (perhaps as disproportionate as their salaries). Yet e-learning barely touches them. Most e-learning providers aren't set up to sell high level solutions, and most training departments in organisations don't equate learning technology to senior level training. Change starts at the top.