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What’s Your eLearning Class Size? October 13, 2010

Posted by Eric Matas in eLearning, Theory.
Tags: , , , ,

Can you make elearning that successfully serves 100 students?

When I think about my experience in college classrooms and, as a parent, about my children’s classrooms, ideal class size has never been 100.  My daughter’s elementary school averages 18 students per teacher according to Trulia. Although, that ratio, 18:1, might mean that a class with two teachers could have 36 students. With elearning–self-paced, web-based training–there is no teacher, so the ratio is imaginary and moot. But is class size insignificant?

Seth Godin Blog Getting Smart Dreyfus ModelThis week, Seth Godin’s blog referred to the Dreyfus model of skill acquisition. The Dreyfus model shows how learners acquire skills from various training. It reminded me that the more students you aim at, the more vast their skill levels. And with elearning, the skill can be with three elements:

  1. the learner’s skill with the content of the training
  2. the learner’s skill with the computer on which they view the elearning
  3. the learner’s skill navigating the elearning itself

When elearning is developed for 100 or more, how can it serve all the different skill levels of the learners? Does such elearning even cover a significant percentage of learners? Can we call elearning a success if it serves only 70% of the learners? How about 60%, 50%, or 40%?

More and more, I think elearning must suit its audience. So, I get a little freaked out when I’m told that elearning is needed for a team of 200, or even just 100 people.

Perhaps no elearning should ever be made for as many as 100 people.

When elearning is developed for large audiences, it seems to end up as two things: generalized for most and annoying for most. When elearning is that generalized, washed out,  or otherwise watered down, it might be better just to send a long email. Perhaps with a couple of links or job aids.

What do you think?



1. usablelearning - October 13, 2010

Hmm, scratching my head a little on this one. Are you basing it on the assumption that larger groups must have great diversity of skill level? Or is it just that larger groups inevitably fail a larger number of learners (ie if your e-Learning is 70% effective, it’s failing 60 people in a group of 200, rather than only 30 people in a group of 100)?

I guess I’m not convinced that a larger group necessarily changes the skill distribution – that skill distribution is more a product of how you define the audience.

For example, I’ve create medical device e-Learning for nurses who had the option to select between classroom training or e-Learning. That e-Learning course was taken by 15,000 nurses.

I’ve also created e-Learning for a new product where the audience was ~85 people. There was a primary audience of salespeople, a secondary audience of customer service reps and tertiary audience of a small number of interested customers (yep – the client wanted one training program for all groups).

Guess which one was more watered down and problematic?

I get what you are saying about the Dreyfus model, and that we should create very different learning experiences for novices vs proficient or expert users. If you just can’t create five different learning experiences, then there are other design strategies (eg layering the info or good practice scenarios that require proficiency to advance), but I agree that it’s big challenge that doesn’t often enough get brought into the design conversation.

Nice question!

Eric Matas - October 13, 2010

Thanks Julie! I recently followed you on Twitter and really like your blog (especially your graphics), so it’s cool to have you comment here.

You’ve added some intriguing details and examples…that I hope will spur more comments.

PS – I’m in MPLS too and design elearning for med device.

usablelearning - October 14, 2010

Thanks Eric – glad you like the blog, and am always happy to know other Mpls e-Learning folks!

2. Michael H Sadowski - October 15, 2010

The size of the class really does not matter if you use the right tools. Take Moodle, where you can take classes and divide them into groups.
What does this give the instructor?
Well, say you have 100 participants and you divide the class onto 10 groups which would give you 10 per group.

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