Teach a Man to Fish: The Business of Elearning

Designing Digitally


Business of eLearning

Elearning isn’t immune to the age-old debate between traditional ways of doing things and new methods. Some push for the latest trends, legitimate or not, while others hold tightly to the way they’ve “always done it.”  

Much of the discourse in the realm of corporate elearning is the efficacy of foregoing the conventional classroom-type model of training in order to participate in simulations and elearning games. Traditionalists believe that a lecture is adequate training for workers and that they shouldn’t need anything more than that. Progressives want as much digital integration as possible. The elearning business has jumped into the fray with both feet.

So, who’s right? Is one method really better and more effective than the other?

Don’t trust assumptions

The word “lecture” can conjure images of nodding off as someone drones on about any given topic. It doesn’t take long before speakers get tuned out and heads nod in a sleepy haze. The fact is, even engaging speakers generally find that the attention span of their audience isn’t what they would like it to be.

Conversely, when one hears the word “game,” they immediately think of fun and enjoyment but not much substance. The assumption is that games are for entertainment, not education. This is a hurdle for the elearning business, though not an insurmountable one.

What’s the truth about games in education? Which training method offers the greatest chance of a learner being able to apply what they have learned to a real-life situation?

Lecture vs. training games

Taking a look at the differences between lectures and elearning games can bring some clarity.

  • One-way vs. two-way communication. A typical lecture involves an instructor standing in front of a group of learners who are seated. The instructor gives information and the learner listens, hopefully absorbing it. Occasionally the instructor may ask for a bit of participation from the listeners. It’s very much a one-way flow of communication. Consider the differences in a two-way flow of communication in which a training simulation or elearning game has an instructor giving directions. The instructor then then steps back and leaves the learners to interact with the game. They respond and engage with the information they received.

  • Passive vs. active learning. When learners take an active role, such as playing an elearning game or completing a simulation, they are much more likely to make concrete connections between what they are learning and real-world situations. Sitting, listening, and taking notes requires no interaction with the content being presented. Learners may be able to study the information, memorize it, and recall it for an assessment, but they likely haven’t learned how to apply it in a real-life scenario.

Success of the elearning business

Most people have heard the saying, “Give a man a fish and he will eat for a day; teach a man to fish and he will eat for a lifetime.” It’s relevant to many situations, not the least of which is this discussion. True learning is evident when a person can apply the knowledge they have taken into a real-life scenario. Elearning businesses are successful because they understand that teaching a man to fish is infinitely more valuable than just giving him a fish.