A Q&A with BannComm and Dr. Ross

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A year-end interview as BannComm sits down with Dr. Ross to discuss the year we had in eLearning and trends for 2021.

Vanja Bannan is the founder of BannComm, a highly successful Toronto-based communications firm for whom Dr. Ross acts as the in-house Director of Learning and Development. Here are some of the highlights from their recent interview.

Q So Jonathan, thank you for taking the time to answer some of my questions today. Let's start with your incredible background and educational accomplishments! When did you receive your PhD, and what exactly did you study?

A I received my PhD in Educational Technology with a focus on Adult Learning Theory and Instructional Design as each pertains to eLearning from the University of Calgary in early 2000. My dissertation compared the same course taught by a professor in the classroom vs. online and how student individual differences such as learning style, personality style, level of domain knowledge and life circumstances affected learning outcomes. I used my own online learning inventory checklist when developing courses and later published the model for other designers to follow.

I found that when designed effectively, students had superior learning outcomes and a deeper, more meaningful experience online than in the traditional classroom. All learning styles were accommodated in the virtual classroom, whereas in the traditional classroom only certain students thrived. I published my results and presented at international conferences. I was also invited to be a research chair at the University of Toronto School of Education which I declined because my calling was in the “doing” aspect which could be achieved more effectively in the private sector.

Q Since then, what major changes have you witnessed and been a part of in the eLearning sector?

A Since graduating, I have seen the elearning industry expand vastly. There have been advancements with technology I would have never dreamed of in the late 90s when I was first creating elearning for universities. We had severe limitations posed by dial-up connections, which really throttled what we could do with multimedia in a course. Video, animations and even audio had to be distributed on a CD-ROM, and the online course called the information from the learner’s local CD drive. It was a real tedious way to do things but it worked in its own way!

Even with all of the emerging technology we see today, the same principles apply now as they did back then: well designed elearning is about varying instruction to meet the needs of all students. Providing theory and application exercises (knowledge checks) and touching upon all learning modalities remains essential. Fads and gimmicks like VR and gamification have some application-- but in a very limited market, and not always for every adult learner. I would encourage that money be put to better use with interactive video in a scenario-based learning environment that asks the learner to apply knowledge and see consequences of action taken immediately. Sometimes the medium can actually detract rather than add to the learning experience. We need to always keep this in mind.

Q What is the most effective eLearning method/style/type and why?

A The most effective elearning method of the moment for the adult audience is to use microlearning or bite-sized, just-in-time modules that are 3-5 minutes in length. Microlearning can accomplish pretty much the same as longer traditional modules of 30 minutes if designed so that every piece of information is important and presented in a way that maintains learner interest.

Recently, I have been exploring explainer videos as a means of presenting new concepts. I call it the Youtubification of elearning. It really is having a moment in 2020, and I enjoy making these auditory and visual “feasts” for the senses. They can be a powerful way to teaching and learning.

Q What is the biggest misconception about the eLearning space?

A Unfortunately, many instructional designers out there still believe for whatever reason that boring, page-turning courses will cut it for the adult learner. Simply putting an image up on a slide with some text-heavy bullets and monotonous narration (if you are lucky) is no longer going to work. Learners are more sophisticated and expect their elearning to emulate real world media experience they have daily as much as possible. As I just said, the Youtubification of elearning is the trend of the next couple of years. People want to watch their learning, not read pages and pages of text, possibly spoon fed to them with a narrator.

Q How has COVID-19 had an impact on the eLearning industry?

A If there has ever been an event or a year that has had an impact on elearning it’s 2020 and COVID-19!

Not only are more and more organizations seeking to move their programs online, learners are demanding it. I am finding clients are wanting their workforce to pull content from their learning management systems and not being pushed learning from their supervisors. People want to have a locus of control this way. It leads to better learning retention because motivation is high to learn in the first place.

The best way to accomplish this pull vs. push phenomenon is to design the course or module material in a way that is engaging, rewarding and just plain fun to take. If anything, COVID-19 has made learners more demanding for meaningful engagement with their devices. They do not have time for poorly made elearning, so my advice to anyone exploring an elearning strategy in 2021 to ensure you think about not just what you want to deploy in terms of content, but how you are going to deploy it. That’s where the experience and nimble approach of the vendor you choose to create your elearning comes in to play.

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