E-learning

by Geoff Allan

Obtaining the package

Let’s suppose that we have identified a learning need and are pre-disposed to using e-learning. There are two major questions we need to ask: how do we get it and what should it contain? We’ll consider each in turn.

Sources of e-learning

The easy route is to find that the organisation already has an e-learning package that addresses our learning need, in which case we can jump straight to assessing its suitability. Often that will not be the case, however, so what other choices might there be?

  • You can find it on the internet
  • You can make it
  • You can buy it off the shelf
  • You can commission it.

Making it will depend on your resources. Some companies have elaborate facilities to produce e-learning, involving programmers, designers and so on. However, very effective e-learning programs can be made using presentation software, such as PowerPoint or Keynote, and these courses can be made even better through programs such as Articulate or Captivate, which convert them to Flash format. These are usually described as rapid e-learning packages, because it usually takes comparatively little time to produce them, so they are very cost-effective. The advantages of making e-learning packages in-house are that they can be specific to the organisation and can be updated relatively cheaply.

More and more subjects are available in ready-made packages. These will be general, but in many instances that doesn’t matter too much. You could always consider adding a brief e-learning pack that covers organisation specific information.

If you can’t find anything that addresses your particular needs, you could commission a custom built e-learning package. In this case, you must be very clear about exactly what you want in terms of learning objectives and ensure that all relevant information is well-documented, to avoid dissension at a later date.

Commissioning your own e-learning package will be more costly than other approaches, but when compared to conventional learning approaches, this may prove to be worth it. In your calculations, consider all the costs of attending a conventional course (time, travel, instructor), the number of people who need the training and how often the training will be needed. What appears to be an expensive option will often prove more cost-effective than originally thought. (See also Is e-learning value for money?)

What’s in the box?

There are a number of things we expect of a good e-learning package and you will want to consider them when making your choice.

  • Will it enable you to meet your learning objectives?
  • Is the level appropriate for the experience level and educational standard of the learners?
  • Will it test their prior knowledge and allow them to by-pass areas they already know, or will they have to work through the whole program anyway?
  • How much control will it allow the learner; in other words, will people be able to move around the program at will or is it the sort of program where you have to start at the beginning and work through to the end, regardless of what you want to do?
  • Is it easy to know where you are in the program, with clear navigation instructions?
  • Does it involve learning through activities or is it passive, like a book presented on screen?
  • Is the learner’s progress assessed along the way, with useful feedback?
  • If the learner is having problems, does it provide alternative explanations or just repeat existing material?
  • Will it engage learners, making them more likely to want to complete it?
  • Is the final assessment appropriate, or will you need to provide additional support?
  • Will it be able to stand alone or will it need additional support, perhaps for final assessment of outcomes?

Now that you are able to decide what you want, it’s time to consider what sort of support might be necessary to enable you to make the most of your e-learning investment.

Checklist

To get the most from e-learning:

  • Be clear about what needs to learned and how you will know it has been achieved
  • Make sure the e-learning package is capable of providing what’s needed
  • Provide relevant support for the learner –consider training learning mentors
  • Consider how informal methods could enhance the formal learning
  • Evaluate what happens.