If you build it, they will come.

That’s a famous line from the movie Field of Dreams.  But does it apply to e-learning?  In chapter 7 of his book, Designing Successful E-Learning, Michael Allen says probably not.  How often do we assume that the mere presence of an e-learning program, or any course, will attract an audience?  I accept that some responsibility lies with topic selection but the design plays a significant role as well.

Dr. Allen suggests that applying traditional instructional design to e-learning focuses too much on simply presenting information and passing a test to achieve its full potential.

Much contemporary instructional design is based on behaviorism or retains at least a strong flavor of it.

Simply get people to respond as we wish, provide knowledge of results as a reward, and practice until correct responses meet criteria.

Unfortunately, this approach, while quite effective with mice and pigeons to “teach” them relatively simple behaviors, has not worked well with humans.  It does not embrace the complexity of human thinking, emotions, motivation, and the powerful effects of the environment in which people behave.

Dr. Allen’s solution is to incorporate the Stages of Change model into instructional design.  This 6-step model below acknowledges that most people do not want to change or don’t see the need for change.  Since the goal of e-learning is to bring about change I believe Dr. Allen’s solution has merit.


In Dr. Allen’s revised approach, an e-learning course should include pre-instructional material.  He specifically warns against giving the learners a reading list.  Pre-instructional activities focus the learner’s mind on the need for behavior change (pre-contemplation), focus on the problem and consider solutions (contemplation).  What is traditionally considered formal instruction does not begin until the preparation stage.

You may ask, “what can I do to focus my learners on needs and solutions?”  One of my favorite ways to focus a learner is to give them a problem to solve.  Working on the problem can point out to the learner what he or she knows (and doesn’t know).  The great thing about e-learning is nobody has to know what the outcome is.  Introductory activities focus the learner on the subject matter, reveal learning opportunities (pre-contemplation) and motivate the learner to continue with the course.

In the rest of the chapter Dr. Allen address informal and blended learning.  Both are useful ways to introduce and follow-up on learning.  I’m not going to cover everything in the chapter.  Go out and buy the book yourself.  You won’t regret it.

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