My top 10 e-learning experiences. What are yours?

As you’ll see, I’ve used e-learning in its very broadest sense in this list i.e. learning via electronic means. These are entirely personal choices (I’m sure someone else could put together a more ‘verifiable’ list based on awards won, measurable impact etc.) and on another day I’m sure I could come up with a completely different top 10. I’d be fascinated to see what other people’s best e-learning experiences have been, so please comment with your own favourites. So here they are in reverse order: my top 10. What are yours?

10. Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas 

On my first visit to Los Angeles I had the most profound sense of déjà vu while driving from the airport to my friends’ house in Culver City. Why? Because I’d done the drive before, in the simulated world of GTA: San Andreas. It’s no wonder that airlines, oil companies and the military invest so heavily in simulators when they provide such powerful and memorable learning experiences.

9. Business Link: My New Business  

Ok, forgive me for name-checking a project I worked on recently but I learned something in one of the tax modules which has resulted in lasting behavioural change for me, at least. What exactly? How to use the % button on a calculator! For years this had been a mystery to me. Why weren’t we shown how to use it at school?

8. Captivate tutorials

Although Captivate can be a mind-bendingly frustrating experience (Aaarrrggghhh, it’s crashed *again*!), Adobe’s tutorials for this software (both in-built and on their website) are clear, easy to follow and got me producing professional looking Captivate demos and simulations for clients in no time at all.

7. BBC Languages

Need to brush up on some basic French or Spanish before going on holiday? Then visit the BBC’s fantastic Languages site which features a range of videos, audio clips and interactive materials to get you ready for your trip.

6. Web Monkey

When I managed to blag my way into the multimedia industry in the late 90s (after leaving University with an English Literature degree and zero practical skills) Web Monkey was a revelation. This site gave me a solid grounding in HTML and JavaScript which has been invaluable over the last 14 years of design, development and consulting.

5. Allen Interactions & IGN Game walkthroughs 

In joint place because I couldn’t choose between them (and didn’t want to do a ‘top 11’)…Michael Allen is an instructional design hero of mine and the case studies and demos on his company’s site are a great source of inspiration for how corporate e-learning can be done with imagination and flair. IGN’s game walkthroughs are great, not only for helping me through some tricky levels in Zelda, COD and Half-Life 2 but by giving me a deeper insight into game mechanics which has informed my own approach to instructional design.

4. Inside  

This interactive documentary allows you to experience the Haiti earthquake as a survivor, journalist or aid worker. Compelling content, high quality videos and branching scenarios which make you an active participant in the story…this is a brilliant example of what e-learning at its very best can achieve.

An obvious but undeniable choice. People whinge about the odd inaccuracy here and there (as well as the blatant mischief-making, which is part of the fun!) but as a first-stop reference tool, Wikipedia is unbeatable.

2.  Mavis Beacon typing

Ah Mavis, where would I be without you? Ok, I’d probably be right here right now but jabbing at the keyboard 20wpm slower than I am currently. When I graduated and joined the massed ranks of the unemployed during the last recession, I was lucky to be living in an area which provided subsidised computer classes for the jobless, including access to the Mavis Beacon typing course. I’ve no idea what this software is like now but back in the 90s it featured a car racing game with a simple but brilliant motivational device: the faster you type correctly, the quicker the car travels; every time you hit a wrong key, a fly splats on your windscreen and the car slows down. I was hooked and have been happily touch-typing ever since.

1. YouTube

YouTube is the Godhead of online learning. After years of puzzling over the greatest guitar riff of the 1980s (‘This Charming Man’ by The Smiths, just in case you were wondering) I mastered it in an hour after watching a guy on YouTube do a tutorial in four easy steps. As a Photoshop dabbler, YouTube has been a tried and trusted friend for every aspect of this powerful but utterly counter-intuitive piece of software. A wealth of searchable, relevant content – generated by real enthusiasts – is the key. This is what the corporate world needs to take note of. The YouTube learning model has immense practical application in the workplace: we need to capture the skills, knowledge and experiences of our best people and share them online. And if your company’s internal network doesn’t have the bandwidth to deliver video, why not set up your own YouTube channel?

Sadly, I fear many people’s favourite e-learning moment might well be…‘Switching It Off!’ That’s because too many e-learning courses are boring, over long and delivered via cumbersome Learning Management Systems. But, as hopefully this list goes to show, e-learning doesn’t always have to be like that.