Viewpoint By Allison Rossett
Confessions of an E-Dropout

(From Training Magazine, August 2000)

‘Anywhere, anytime’ turns into ‘not now, maybe later.’

About nine months ago I decided to go beyond talking about Web training and actually experience it myself. I signed up for an online investing class. I learned a few things about investing. I also learned some things about how e-learning fits into my life.

Dec. 3: Two welcoming letters immediately followed my $49 registration. Class starts a week from today.

Dec. 10: It’s 6 a.m. here on the West Coast. Three more hours until my password becomes active and I can start the class. Why have I carefully memorized this password and code name, when I habitually forget most others? Feels like motivation to me.

Dec. 11: I can’t believe it. I forgot about the class. One day into my investing class and I’m already behind.

Dec. 12: I’ve just spent nearly 90 minutes doing lesson one. I’m smiling because I scored 90 percent on my first test. The questions weren’t as meaty as the class materials. We’re interested in whatever will enable us to make good investment decisions. The testing should reflect that, with more cases and scenarios forcing application of new concepts.

There is much to like here. The writing is good. That’s particularly important because reading and scrolling are only occasionally interrupted by exercises. There is also a friendly interface with simple, effective graphics. A streaming-video welcome from my professor was a nice touch. There are several learning and study options, including chats, access to published articles, and links to other sites and to an online bookstore.

The quiz at the end of the first unit makes me think about what I need to know by heart and what I should be taking away as notes. This course is not coaching me to produce job aids or other materials for later reference.

Dec. 14: I’m ready for the second module. It’s about bonds. Must I memorize the fact that bonds are backed by tangible assets and debentures are not? If vocabulary is critical, then it should be drilled more intensely. If it’s just FYI, then we need to know that too. Fifteen minutes into module 2 when the phone rings. Later for module 2.

Dec. 18: It’s been four days, and I think I’m going to have to go back to the beginning of the unit. I can’t do that now. Somebody is at the door.

Dec. 24: It took six days but I’m back. I reviewed earlier lessons and plunged into the course again. I readily found my way back to where I left off. Again, I appreciate the clean, clear prose, but wish for more examples and thought-provoking practice exercises. There’s a tendency to focus on calculation in lieu of pressing us to consider the implications of tricky topics such as bond yield, bond prices and interest rates.

Dec. 28: My performance plummeted to 60 percent. Naturally I have some gripes about the test. Midway through the module I was asked a good question: Should I use an investment adviser or go it alone? I don’t know if they did a systematic needs assessment, but I can see that the course designers attempted to anticipate our needs and priorities.

Jan. 9: It’s a new century, and I can’t remember anything about the class. A few synchronous chats with the professor have been scheduled, but never when I can attend. I’m losing traction on this and feeling guilty about it. I’m about to fly to the East Coast. I’ll try to log into the class from my hotel room.

Jan. 28: There just wasn’t time to do any online learning while traveling. The opportunity is slipping away, and I haven’t had a moment to get back to it. No word from the course manager or professor about my disappearance. It’s now or never. My password goes defunct on Feb. 3.

Feb. 5: I’ve been nursing a bad cold and coping with a deadline. I finished three modules of six. My access is terminated. I am a Web dropout.

How could this have happened to me? I wish I could point to the class and blame it for turning me off. I can’t. The things that made me a dropout are the same things that make the Web so compelling. The beauty of “anywhere, anytime, whenever you want,” too readily turns into not now, maybe later, and often not at all. Lacking a dynamic instructor, powerful incentives, links to the job and fixed schedules, Web learning is at a dramatic disadvantage in capturing and holding attention. In my pajamas, near computer, phone, refrigerator, cats and pals, it was just too easy to do everything except my Web class.

Yes, everyone can learn on the Web. But my experience makes me wonder how many will.