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A blended approach to cross-platform content


Piers Lea, CEO of LINE Communications, looks at the growth of technology and how it is being used in a variety of forms for delivering training.

TV screens in classroom

E-learning and the growth of technology

e-learning as a legitimate business tool has grown hugely over the last two years, with an initial influx of US-based technology providers followed some months later by a handful of content developers. The concept of e-learning was heralded as a new way of thinking and an innovative approach to technology, enabling businesses to provide a new breed of training and learning for their employees.

The truth is, businesses have been using e-learning for years (the widely used definition cites it as ‘technology enabled training and learning’) with technology inextricably linked to in personnel development. The advances over the last five years have brought an increase in the amount of hi-tech solutions readily accessible on the desktop.

The belief that e-learning has only been around for two years is a myth. While the latest learning technology and content has come of age since the start of the twenty-first century, the principles of technology-enabled learning have been around for many years. When e-learning arrived in the UK in early 2000, it was heralded as a revolutionary new way to learn, and once businesses had educated their employees on how to use these new technologies the whole concept of training would change for ever.

Brandon Hall, one of the leading e-learning luminaries, has said he believes that the full benefits of e-learning will be realised when it becomes just simple training or learning, and the emphasis on the technology has once again become a given. The e-learning industry should remember that the technological phenomenon that drives the industry is not unique. Technology has played an important part in organisational training and learning for many years, with the advent of projectors, videos, interactive whiteboards, and now the Internet – the only difference is that as the latest technological advancement becomes part of the fabric of everyday life, each new development is greeted with new enthusiasm and innovation. The assumption has always been that new technology is always going to offer a better experience – but what about the learning context?

Another assumption, which may have slowed the advance of the e-learning market, is that it requires employees to learn in a new way. It’s true that new technology requires the creation of new learning cultures, but through the selection of the correct technology platform new technology and platforms offer the opportunity to deliver a truly blended learning experience. If the technology gap can be bridged - and as the next generation of employees bring with them a desire for new technology - this should become less of a concern. In reality, the true value of e-learning is that it enables an audience larger than is attainable for conventional ILT to access training and learning material. Technology will provide the basis for training and learning delivered in the way that best suits their learning style, and businesses should instead have been concentrating on developing the content to suit their employees. The combination of education and entertainment is a key part of developing effective learning content. Without the entertainment it is unlikely that the intended audience will ever get past the opening screen, and without providing a learning experience, there is no business case for developing e-learning content.

Learning from the TV experience

Where there is a fixed media the job of creating engaging content can be developed and formulated, in much the same way as the early television broadcasts, or the birth of the Internet. Television has changed over the last 80 years, and is now almost unrecognisable to an audience watching during its pioneering days. Whilst some would argue that the quality of the content has declined, the fact remains that producers have become more effective at using the media to develop programmes that pull in increasing audience figures. Television is now becoming an interactive medium, with links to the Internet and viewer handsets and the selection of the correct context and platform have become an imperative for creating engaging content.

This is the key to the future of successful e-learning: not simply making it entertaining, but making both the content and the platform relevant to the individual. In the mid 1990’s desktop and home PC’s were still emerging as the must have electronic gadget, and as such, training and learning was still the preserve of the classroom. The emerging technology for corporate communications during this period was the videocassette, and organisations were looking for ways to use this media to educate and engage their employees.

Working cross-platform

As PC’s became more established in the fabric of corporate life, the advent of interactive computer design heralded the start of a new era in creativity and accessibility for learning content. Cross-platform solutions can provide a range of learning solutions to cater for different audiences, suitable for CPD (continuous professional development), just-in-time, and modular learning programmes. Cross-platform also allows for the important considerations of religion, language, tradition, learning style and organisational culture to be taken into consideration through regional variations and language versions.

Web-based learning is now seen as being the perfect solution for distributing learning solutions to a diverse cultural audience, but this has not always been the case. One of the criticisms now levelled at so-called ‘low-tech’ platforms is they do not offer the flexibility of the web, and have limited version control. In the main, these are challenges that are still being addressed when using diskette or CD-ROM. Even with the all-encompassing web, distributing a learning solution to a global organisation still has its challenges.

The definition of cross-platform has so far been one of using multiple technologies as support and confirmation aids, but for e-learning to be truly multi-platform, the challenge is to make learning ‘portable’. The key to increasing enrolment numbers and completion rates is to take the solutions away from the desktop. The number of hours spent every week in front of PC screens has grown steadily over the last decade, and the prospect of spending more hours learning at the desktop has been one of the major concerns of employees across the world.


At LINE, portable learning is not just about being able to put it on a PDA or laptop, although it does include this concept. We are currently working on a project which uses re-usable learning objects, and a learning content management system, to enable the same learning solution to be accessible via desktop, laptop, pocket pc and, potentially, 2.5 & 3G mobile. In the past this would have required developing separate versions for each platform to cater for the individual technological requirements. We are starting to see the second generation of hi-resolution PDA’s, and the first colour mobiles, which will increase the possibility of a truly portable learning solution.

The key is that through the development of learning on each platform, the potential for cross-platform solutions has been proven. It is about learning from the individual challenges and adapting this knowledge to ensure that each element provides the same engaging and educational elements. It is also important to understand the limitations of each individual platform, and find how each platform can best contribute to the learning experience.

Intelligent application and innovation

The key to delivering all of our learning solutions is an understanding of intelligent use of technology, treatment and platform. Combined, the results can be truly compelling. Who is to say where the next opportunity for delivering learning will be? Perhaps it will be via next generation electronic tablet – or through a games console, or digital television channels like BBC Learning.

The challenge now is to use the technology platforms for improved user acceptance of e-learning, and a wider understanding of how portable learning provide individual improvement and benefit, coupled with competitive advantage. Through intelligent use of available media, selecting a suitable delivery platform and a compelling creative approach, cross platform e-learning will prove its value, and show that it is nothing new – and while the platform keeps on changing, the learning experience should remain the same – compelling and relevant.

To go back to the myth that e-learning is all about web-based learning, it is certain that the Internet will form the backbone of training, learning and communications, but in order to make it relevant for every individual it is essential that e-learning becomes a truly multi-platform experience. Multi-platform solutions are still in their infancy, and as technology continues to develop at a quickening rate it is essential that businesses maintain an open mind when selecting a platform. We’ve shown that over the last decade training and learning has successfully used a variety of delivery methods, and this will continue, with new technology and traditional methods such as classroom-based ILT and e-learning being used side-by side. The key to the ongoing success of e-learning is in ensuring that the platform addresses three criteria: audience, cost and most importantly, effectiveness.


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