E-learning

by Geoff Allan

In a nutshell

1. Where should I start?

The best place to start is by identifying your learning need. There are three main reasons for providing training and development:

  • Your performance is below par
  • You want to be even better at what you do
  • You are anticipating new capabilities that your organisation will need.

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2. What sort of learning?

There are several types of learning, so it may be useful to think about what sort of learning you require and how easily that can be acquired through e-learning.

  • Formal learning is planned and is probably provided in the form of a course or modules, with assessment as an inherent part of the process. When we refer to e-learning packages or modules, we are usually referring to a type of formal learning.
  • Informal learning is unplanned, with no assessment and no certification. It takes place in a myriad of ways: listening to others, discussing things, asking a colleague how something is done, trying things out yourself, reading newspapers, magazines, professional journals or books, seeing things on TV or hearing them on radio and so on.
  • With self-managed learning, the learner is responsible for their progress through a particular programme or course, but the objectives have been determined for them.
  • With self-determined learning, the learner decides what they need to learn and when; and then they decide how they will learn. They may choose either formal or informal approaches and they may use e-learning or more conventional approaches.
  • Blended learning uses a variety of methods and technologies to achieve results.

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3. What are your options?

In the case of a degree or diploma course, the administrators will decide whether and how e-learning will be used. Shorter courses essentially fall into three groups – external courses, internal courses and e-learning.

  • External courses will be relatively general, since they must be applicable to any person attending. You may have to wait a while until less popular courses are available.
  • Internal courses can be specific to the organisation’s needs, but it can be expensive to use external trainers when only small numbers are involved.
  • E-learning is very flexible, though it can take time to develop a specific package.
  • Some subjects are more easily dealt with in e-learning than others. Generally those skills that we label ‘hard’ skills are easier to provide than the ‘soft’ skills.

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4. Advantages and disadvantages of e-learning

The advantages of good e-learning include

  • Flexibility – it can be available at any time and anywhere that has the necessary computer facilities
  • Large numbers of people can use it at the same time
  • Consistency and uniformity of delivery
  • Each session can also be personal in a way that is not possible in groups
  • An e-learning package can be used as often as you like for no extra cost
  • Reduced training delivery time
  • If a learning management system (LMS) is used, then you will have the ability to keep track of the learning of each person in the organisation, automatically.

The most obvious disadvantages concern how e-learning is used within an organisation and its availability:

  • An appropriate e-learning package may not be available
  • There may be a lack of support, including discussions with other people
  • Some topics are relatively easily learnt in isolation while others demand group involvement
  • Some people are better able to learn on their own than others.

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5. Is e-learning value for money?

E-learning packages are not cheap, but they can prove more cost effective than other learning methods.

  • Costs of providing workshops will include the trainer, staff time, travelling costs, and time wasted when people who know some of the information have to cover old ground.
  • A tailored e-learning package can be used at the learner’s pace, avoiding sections that the person already knows.
  • It can be used in ‘free’ time, so in theory it should cost less in staff time.
  • It can be kept for use with new staff and for updating purposes.

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6. Obtaining the package

There are many sources of e-learning:

  • You can find it on the internet
  • You can make it, using presentation software, such as PowerPoint or Keynote, and these can be made even better through programs such as Articulate or Captivate, which convert them to Flash format
  • You can buy it off the shelf; ready-made packages will be general, but in many instances that doesn’t matter too much
  • You can commission it, which will be more costly than other approaches, but when compared to conventional learning approaches, this may prove to be worth it.

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7. What support might be needed?

There are two levels of support: championing e-learning in your organisation (for e-learning to become a totally accepted way of learning within your organisation, you may need someone who can organise demonstrations and involve other managers) and support for the individual learner(s). Here, there are two main aspects:

  • Practical/environmental support – appropriate IT facilities, suitable study space, time
  • Learning support – to help adult learners overcome known barriers to learning, such as lack of confidence or embarrassment, and integrate the learning with work.

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8. Sources of informal e-learning

Informal e-learning could simply be defined as accessing information via a computer, or indeed any electronic device, in an ad hoc fashion, as and when the need arises. If you remember the information, then you can say you have learnt it and therefore that was informal e-learning.

  • Specialist sites can provide a much better quality of information in specific areas
  • Blogs can be set up on the web itself or on an intranet and can be used as a focus for discussion on any relevant topics
  • Podcasts can be a useful e-learning tool

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