eLearning Design

The more things change, the more they stay the same…


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The more things change, the more they stay the same…

Over the weekend, I finally finished a cross stitch sampler that I have had on the go for 30 years. (Yes, I learned to cross stitch very, very young!)


Since it was a bit of a momentous occasion, I couldn’t help but reflect on the passage of all that time.

When I started it, the internet was merely a glimmer in Tim Berners-Lee’s eye. The Mac computer I was using stored data on 16mb floppy disks. Video disk was the new big thing, but the player needed to be wheeled around on a massive trolley, with a disk like a shiny silver vinyl LP.

30 years ago, I worked for David Ransom, at the Chartered Insurance Institute. He not only introduced desk top publishing to the CII textbooks, he introduced Computer Based Training (CBT). So in 1988, I worked on my first ever CBT course, with Henry, Andy and Peter Philips of Unicorn, itself newly born. Their programmer, George, generated character names that have lived in my memory ever since – ‘Dug Down, Eileen Dover, and Tina Biscuit’ to name but a few. You needed to be a programmer to write the code that made the courses work. Authoring tools were in the distant future.

So would the courses that we built then bear any resemblance to what we produce today?

Back then, we had courier as a type face. And not much else.

We had drawings of cars that had four squares as wheels.

You can see how far we’ve come by comparing these BBC weather maps:

Screenshot 2018-12-04 at 16.41.25

eLearning must have changed enormously, then?

  • The average screen of computer-based training had words on the left, and a graphic on the right.
  • Courses started with some vaguely written learning outcomes.
  • To move from screen to screen, you clicked ‘>’ or ‘next’.
  • You dreaded the scrollbar.
  • You checked knowledge by asking multiple choice questions.

So – 30 years on? Are we still doing this?

Sadly, we are. Like my sampler, these things have become an integral part of our lives. They are our unconscious bad habits, our tried and tested routines, our comfortable ways of thinking.

So, this is my plea, to all of us who can shape and influence online learning.

Let’s make it beautiful.

Let’s make it creative and engaging.

Let’s make it swipey, and responsive

Let’s make it accessible.

Let’s base it on best practice.

Let’s be proper teachers.

Let’s be visionaries.

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