Where’s the Beef?

“Where’s the beef?”

I may be dating myself, but this catch phrase from a Wendy’s commercial years ago illustrates a salient point for online learning.

In my first blog post, I talked about trying to find the perfect blend: the holy grail of online learning. So, to begin our quest, we need to acknowledge the importance of the first critical aspect of on-line learning — credible content.

In the world of online learning, content and its sources’ credibility is the “beef”. Learners want to know whether or not the content comes from a credible authority — if that didn’t matter then just “googling it” might replace many aspects of formal learning programs without any real consequences.

For online technical courses, the aspect of content credibility is one of the keys to success. This is not only true for the structured content — with social learning bleeding into online learning, it becomes even more evident! In a commissioned study conducted by Global Knowledge, a new distance learning platform’s students uniformly cited the credibility of the responder to threads within a discussion forum as the singular criteria they used to help sift through all of the responses. Just as we all tend to read email messages from organizational leaders more intently, learners look to Subject Matter Experts (SMEs) within online chat and discussion rooms in the same way. There is so much information available; one must find a way to sift through what’s there.

To put this into perspective, in a recent Global Knowledge training survey participants were asked to think about the number of hours they spent last year dedicated to skills development and how those hours were spent. Here are the eye-popping results:

  • 98% = Informal self-directed training (books, web sites, etc) —  average 125 hours
  • 82% = On-the-job training, directed by peers —  average 58 hours
  • 66% = Formal training (trade school, training company, etc) — average 43 hours

Source: 1Q11 ITPAP Quarterly Benchmark Study (N = 678)

So, almost 230 hours per individual per year were spent on skills development with over half of that total time devoted to informal self-directed training. Imagine the consequences when more than 55% of the time folks are spending come from a non-controlled and potentially non-trusted source. What is the business cost of incorrect or outdated information sitting on dusty book shelves and sometimes questionable corners of the internet?

For busy, motivated, information seeking, technical course online students, sifting through all of the available information on the internet is not only time consuming but daunting. Information seeker types want to find the quickest path to the “right” information. These folks are looking for the authority on a subject, and they want the reassurance that the source is credible.

The credibility of an online learning program’s instructor/facilitator has a direct impact on learner satisfaction, rate of completion, and overall success of a program. If learners feel they can trust the source, they will continue to return.

This might be one reason why traditional online learning programs struggle with poor completion rates and low learner satisfaction. Perhaps the page-turning, mystery voice online learning that still dominates the industry offerings just does not lend the credibility to compete with simply “Googling” to get your information. Learners leave these course offerings aside asking “where’s the beef?”

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1 comment

  1. Charlie Reply

    I miss Clara Peller. Little known fact: the original Wendy’s where-the-beef commercial was titled “Fluffy Bun”

    Aside form credibility, another point of consideration for why EduGoogle and other self-learner tactics often fail to generate positive and lasting results is that those outlets aren’t engaging. I know that doesn’t sound earth-shaking, but engagement is at the very core of efficacy. Whether it’s generating an emotional response to trigger long-term retention, or providing a practical example that resonates with the specific learner, engagement is the catalyst for converting raw data into understanding.