Why I Won’t Sign the Serious eLearning Manifesto

If you are here, it is quite likely that you have read the “Serious eLearning Manifesto“. When I first saw a reference to it, I immediately left what I was doing, excited and determined to learn more. Then, disappointment. I can’t, I won’t sign the Manifesto. Here’s why.

Blame is not the answer

The Serious eLearning Manifesto devotes two paragraphs to blaming others. “Most elearning fails to live up to its promise”… “trends evoke a future of only negligible improvement”.  Two paragraphs that, while short, constitute a whopping 33% of the manifesto. That’s right: out of six paragraphs, two are blaming the work of others.

I am sure the four “Instigators”, as they call themselves, are seasoned professionals. I am sure they have seen a lot more elearning than I have, including lots of poorly designed elearning. I have seen some of that too. However, I don’t claim to know the constraints and limitations that led to a particular piece of elearning. No matter how much I may know about the industry, I don’t know the specific circumstances that lead to bad examples of elearning.

For anyone interested in learning, we live in truly exciting times. Technology is finally converging with learning in meaningful ways. We have only scratched the surface. Many L&D departments, even some belonging to hi-tech companies, are still suffering from a painful dichotomy that is simply a consequence of this early convergence: L&D staff are either non-tech or tech, learning professionals or elearning professionals, but rarely both. The divide is individual and sometimes organizational, perpetuated by L&D hiring strategies. This causes tensions, inefficiencies, and yes, probably bad elearning. I believe this is transitional, and the profession will evolve to embrace technology while standing on solid adult learning theory and practice. It is circumstantial. I do not believe that “bad elearning” is a trend, particularly one that “evokes a future of only negligible improvement”. So I am not going to blame anyone for being in an L&D department in flux, trying to cope with the changes, let alone for their future work.

It would be easy to fall for the “us vs. them” rhetoric and somehow distance myself from the pack by signing a manifesto that blames bad elearning on others. But I believe that won’t help the profession at this crucial junction. If there is one way we are going to drive substantial improvement in the field of elearning, it’s by sticking together. I won’t start that effort by proclaiming that there is a lot of bad elearning out there. Work together, learn together and win.

Not exclusive to elearning

Moving on to the Supporting Principles. I had a quick look at them and to my disappointment, there is nothing that I would not say of any type of learning experience. Assume for a moment that you haven’t seen the title, and read the Supporting Principles again, with “learning” (no leading “e”) as the general concept in mind. Anything that doesn’t belong? Nothing? Well, yes, that is what I thought too: this is a set of generic learning principles, equally at home in the classroom, in the field, in elearning, in simulations and any other learning experience. Looks like a “learning manifesto” set of principles to me. Don’t get me wrong: there is goodness in every one of those principles. I just don’t see them confined to elearning.

Are these common-sense principles being applied consistently to elearning? No. But the same goes for any other type of learning. Shall we go and blame them too, draft a “Serious Classroom Manifesto”? OK, I think you get my point.

A value proposition

I admire the elegance with which the Agile Manifesto was written. Although proposing a sharp U-turn in terms of how software projects are run, it does so in a gentle, inclusive, respectful way. “While we see the value in this, we value that more”.

But there’s more. The principles behind the Agile Manifesto stand the test of time. They do not hinge on circumstantial evidence that points to bad software development (although it’s out there). And by doing so, by sticking to values and not “trends”, the agile manifesto will outlive many “future trends”.

Politeness, respect, values, timeless principles, no pointing fingers. Is there a learning manifesto written in these terms? I will sign that.


  1. I feel so disappointed that the Manifesto appears to sound as if it’s blaming others. Goodness, that was not our intent nor our feelings. Indeed, the Manifesto isn’t about blame; it’s about a sorry state of affairs and much disappointment that e-learning isn’t universally adding more to our lives.

    I wouldn’t step back from claiming that most e-learning fails to live up to its promise. The promise is a grand and important one–one that can benefit us all–so many people. The opportunity is there, even with onerous constraints. But somehow, those of us in the field for decades, haven’t done a good job of helping others realize how to deal with them. And so, some of us are trying to rectify this situation, late as it is.

    It does sound a bit braggish to call oneself a seasoned professional, doesn’t it? Sorry about that. What I felt in regard to that was, “We’ve been where you are too, wherever you are in your journey. We’ve been in situations where there clearly wasn’t enough time or money to do it ‘right.’ Where there was a confining if not completely inappropriate mandate (I want 80% of this in video). And we were disappointed in our ability to handle such situations effectively.” But with enough experience, you start to get a handle on all this, and we believe, rightly or wrongly that we do. And we’re up for sharing what we know and trying to improve the state of things.

    I agree with your observation about the Agile Manifesto. It was the model that inspired me personally and guided what we did. At one point, I think we had totally plagiarized their wording on this (prefer this to that). I think it’s perfect. I’m sorry that somehow it was lost.

    And finally, with regard to whether this is limited to e-learning or not. While I really don’t understand why you’d take offense at the fact that these principles are applicable outside e-learning and we didn’t claim that, we imposed this limitation on ourselves for exactly the humility you feel is lacking. Those of us who were instigators of the Manifesto work primarily in e-learning. Even though we all do quite a lot of work in blended and instructor-led learning as well, we didn’t want to overstep our bounds or credibility. So, after much discussion, we decided to limit our voice to the field we know best and be grateful if people found our work to be useful beyond these bounds.

    I’m sorry you’re not a signatory. You could be such a helpful crusader in the effort to renew expectations for e-learning, but I’m very grateful you shared your thoughts about it and helped bring it to the attention of a wider audience.

    Best wishes for great success in your work.


    • Michael, thank you for your comment, I appreciate your thoughts on the intent of the manifesto. And no, it’s not braggish to call oneself “seasoned professional” given your experience. In fact, you didn’t write that – I did.

      We may disagree in the wording, but I will remain a friend of the eLearning manfiesto. Its principles are sound and the practices that you (SAM) and others (Cathy’s action mapping, scenario-based design, etc) are bringing to the industry are great vehicles to make them part of every project.

  2. Thank you Antonio and Michael for continuing this important conversation. I signed the manifesto and was happy to — even noting that the listed principles applied to good learning and design, not just elearning.
    I am, however, disappointed that the learning community has not been active in events or other discussions around the topic. Is there anything planned for the future? I do mention the manifesto often when speaking to other elearning designers/developers to see how far reaching the word got. I’d love to support and help market another online gathering or event.
    Thank you again and hope to hear more about this call to action: A continuing discussion is the only way to keep it alive, whether you’re in the camp or not.

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