June 16, 2024

Preference of E-Learning – Structured or not?

Author: Craig Weiss
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Trends are funny.  People readily assume that a trend must be interpreted as a positive or that the person presenting what will become a trend as the gatekeeper to that trend, and thus, either the person who created whatever that trend is, or must have some level of scientific data to support it.

Micro-learning started as a buzz word and noted as such, in this blog and in a variety of other sites too.  No one, ever went into angst mode of the term of micro-learning, even though anyone who has been involved with e-learning since 1998, knew that micro wasn’t new, nor any radical approach to learning, it just was short. So back then, we refererred to short content as short, or bytes of learning or nuggets.

When it was noted as a buzz word, silence.  Mobile Learning? Silence. Social Learning? Silence.  Blended learning? Well, that was an interesting one. People who were running training/L&D always viewed blended to be paper and ILT (pre-WBT).  And for the longest time, folks in the corporate space saw blended as the most effective way to present content, knowledge and information.   No one said anything.  We just went thru the motions.

We did this because it had always been that way. For hundreds of years in education.  Classroom and paper, in the early days, maybe it was stone, who knows, but it was a setting with one person presenting knowledge and others listening.

When WBT appeared, there was an “AHA moment”.  The early adopters recognized that web-based training not only could work, but could do a better job at training and learning, that the current mode of ILT and paper.

There is plenty of data out there that supports the notion that WBT can equal and even surpass ILT for retention, comprehension and synthesis.  And there is plenty of insight showing that anytime, anywhere learning that is non-linear is more effective that following an agenda, point by point, ILT.  

But there were plenty of people who just couldn’t walk away from the ILT structure.  Paper? Not a problem, we can go PDF.  Have to go WBT? Okay, we can use a PowerPoint, whalla, online!

Was their angst?  For the folks who were instructional designers, some cases yes, others no.  For the ILT component, I never heard one ID person go in frantic mode.  It had always been the way, so why say anything to go aganist the apple cart.

I for one, was and still am a true believer that anything in e-learning can be done better and more effectively than anything with instructor-led training.  It the content is built correctly, is very interactive and engaging, it can and will work.  I’ve seen it first hand, at multiple companies and verticals. 

Every time, following a non-linear methodology, that if the learner wanted to go linear they could, but they were not forced to. Any subject.  Required, or not required. Proprietary or non-proprietary.

But I totally understood that there were others who felt the necessity to go more “traditional” with the instructor-led classroom/seminar angle and have touch points with WBT.

WBT by the way was the term used for e-learning, as in Web-Based-Training.  The previous term that was widely used was CBT, Computer-Based-Training, which was taking a course on your computer via a CD-Rom, and later by some with a DVD-ROM.

E-Learning Goes Linear

Right out of the gate, there were many who decided the most effective way to go with e-learning content was to go linear, i.e. A to B to C to D, as though you are following a book.  A Table of Contents was optional in this mode of learning. Navigation was go forward and go back with no points along the way, except the next click. 

The rise of rapid content authoring tools, specifically the explosive growth of Articulate Studio, which in all sense of the word was nothing more than a PPT converter, allowed anyone, to create an “online course”.  ID skills not needed.  E-Learning developer skills not needed.  And knowledge of any ADDIE or another modalities, not needed. 

For the authorware supporters this was akin to blasting the planet with gamma rays.  Still, the level of angst was minimal. 

There were folks of course, who were forced to go into e-learning, as though, it was a requirement and in doing so, decided that since their knowledge was in ILT modality, they would follow suit, with e-learning.  The rise of lockdown began. 

And with that, came static.  Static content still exists today. It is boring. It is dull. It follows the mantra that a couple of videos or a picture in a course or clicking a button here or there, constitutes engaging learning.   I’d argue, that it is a stretch to refer to that as learning.  Let alone engaging.


Mention colloboration and all these amazing ideas pop into your head, yet go into any system, and collaboration is often via a discussion board, forum, chat room – in other words text. Text driven.  I say something, others respond.  Maybe in real time, maybe not.

We share files. We share this or that. We are in a group. Look, it’s online, so congrats, it is e-learning. 

But is it really? 


95% of the coaching I see in systems, or in products online follows a similar approach:

  • Learner records themselves via a web cam or device and sends it to the coach OR is recorded in real-time to the coach (ideally a manager or some other expert)
  • The coach then responds in text
  • The learner follows up in text

Is that truly coaching someone? Passive to Passive?  How is that different than the days of distanc learning, where you watched someone on a TV, while you and others sat in a room with a video camera on your face, showing your emotions to them?  Actually, the old school way, at least had both parties on video, so texting was not part of the equation.

Coaching works best thru incorporating real-life scenarios, not by recording yourself sitting down or standing in front of a screen as though you are preparing for a TV broadcast.


Nobody likes assignments. Nobody.  No one in their school days, ever said, “The teacher gave us homework, this is going to be awesome! I can’t wait to start.”  Yet, assignments started to appear in systems, because folks in training and L&D who couldn’t pull away from ILT, felt that it was a necessity. After all, how can you truly tell if they are learning, if you rely on them, learning on their own?  We must have the ability to verify and since our content isn’t doing the trick, an assignment is needed.

OR perhaps in their own ILT, they always handed out an assignment for someone to do, on their own time. 

Informal and Formal

If you want to see the early adoption of ILT approaches into e-learning look no further than informal and formal learning that is noted in e-learning. Both terms were established way before  e-learning was even in consideration.  They are terms used for instructor-led training, and I’d argue, and have in the past, not applicable to e-learning.

But as with many other learning approaches, not something so easily removed from the minds of many.

After all, it has been around for many decades, so therefore it must stay.

Macro Content

I’ve heard the approach before, the term of “Structured learning”.  I admit, it has only been of recent, say the last few months, that the term macro -learning started to appear with a variety of folks I know.  Nothing concrete, just mentions of this way to learn, that according to them was more effective for skill acquisition that other modalities.

I didn’t ask them for emperical data proof, because honestly, it was a perspective that folks felt and believed to be true.  And I wasn’t expecting it to be sought at the same level of a study of whether chocolate makes you smarter.   Learning is open to interpretation. No one, ever asked for emperical data to support mastery learning, it works for some, and not others.

Brain-based learning has data to support its findings, but again, not everyone will see positive results, partially I believe, as some neurologists have told me, that no one knows 100% of the brain; and partially, because there are unknown variables, that not even the best brains in the world, no pun here, would be able to say “Everybody who does exactly this, will see this exact result”, I guess if we were robots we could validate this, but we aren’t.

Structured Learning aka as macro content or macro-learning is what I see as a trend. And a buzz word, you can expect to hear in 2020.

I noted this on a post on Linkedin, and shortly read comments that were to be polite anything as a whole, of positive.  Many, rightly noted, that the term already exists, in the sense of the methodoliogy follows blended learning.  Others viewed my term “as the buzz word” as though I was announcing that gamma rays were the next mode of learning.

Some sought emperical data to support this trend.  Some disagreed for a variety of reasons.  And a few, the minority, saw it as something that was not only feasible, but perhaps made sense.

What no one said, not one person, was that the focus shouldn’t be on the modality, rather it should be on the quality of the content.

What is Macro-Content/Macro-Learning?

First off, it is a learning approach for those who support it, that by following the methodology, you will have higher probability to attain skills (i.e. skill acquistion) compared to other methodologies.

It is structured learning, with a beginning, middle and in essence an end.  Telling a story as someone said to me, which I understood what that meant, and respectively disagreed with them.

The term isn’t what people should be getting up in arms about, although that seemed to be the angst issue, rather it is the process.

Structured incorporates

  • Activities
  • Assignments
  • Coaching
  • Collaboration
  • Structured learning approach

The activities ideally should be driven by the learner, where they can select a series of scenarios.  Coaching and collaboration are all part of the journey if you will. 

When I heard it, I immeditely thought I knew what this was, just re-packaged.  Classroom learning.  I say that, because it is all of that. 

ILT revamped for 2020 is another way of putting it. 

Could it be “structured” in another fashion to make it more e-learning, with non-linear, interactive and engaging?  Absolutely.   Ever read one of those adventure books? With multiple options on your journey, where you the reader drives the narrative?

A reader on my Linkedin post, saw it as a digital journey tied to applications (I surmise in the sense of scenarios) and I think that is a very good way to look at it.   And I believe it can be done non-linear, open for exploration, rather than going in lock down mode, following a linear methodology that is best suited for the classroom.

BINGO is a Journey

Lately I have been playing this Bingo game online.  It is a great time waster. I’m not mentioning it here to tell you about the game, rather how it is presented.

As a journey with various “sites”, that while you can follow a path, you are not required to do so. Once a “new site” opens, you can jump to it, or stay on the path.  Some of the sites are what you expect a bingo card to look like, others have different modalities and capabilties that do not adhere or follow the usual bingo mantra.

Even with the new capabilities, you can do even more on top of that. If you do not want to go to those sites, no big deal, you are not forced to. 

You can see who else is playing – how many of those folks, and then when “Bingo” happens see the countdown, and the avatars of who has won.

Now, there isn’t a coach, or collaboration, but if you have ever experienced learning a foreign language in an app, you do have those items as part of it. And every one of the foreign language programs I have ever taken, all offer a non-linear approach, with collaboration options and in some cases a coach or mentor. 

Does it work for everyone? Absolutely not.  But it offers varations to the usual mode, that many of us experienced during our school days, sit in a room, put on a headset, listen to the speaker (audio only) and repeat.

I’m sure somewhere there was someone who had emprical data saying this was the best modality to work.

And no one argued.

No one went into angst mode.

No one felt there was an evil cabal at work.

No one did anything.

And so we followed a method that just didn’t work. 

Bottom Line

Instructor-led training is the same in this regard.

It works for some, and not for others.

There are those of us out there who need a structured learning environment to succeed, and others who do not.  I recall a study I once saw way in the early 2000’s that found that folks who loved e-learning were truly independent learners and those who did not, were not.

Even though according to the study, when people were asked if they were independent learners, they all said yes, it in reality, was really not the case.

It had nothing to do whether the person was tech savvy or not.  Whether they were at a certain age or age bracket or not, or socioeconomic levels or anything else.

It was all about preference of learning.

Perhaps then instead of angst of macro as a buzz term or structured learning as a trend, we instead, recognize what is actually is

A preference for some.

And not for


Including me.

E-Learning 24/7


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