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E-Learning: let the ‘e’ stand for ‘equality’ – feature


Karina Ward, Marketing Manager at Netg, looks at the importance of equal access to learning technology.

There are few HR and training professionals that haven’t heard about, or indeed experienced, the key selling points of e-Learning. I’ll spare you the lengthy sales pitch, but in a nutshell: e-Learning saves organisations huge amounts of money, primarily on flights and hotel rooms (your people don’t have to travel to get access to courses) and it can be done in a learner’s own time, at his/her own pace and to a more/less in-depth degree, depending on an individual’s level of prior knowledge.

Sound familiar? And so it should, but it should also sound incomplete. The learning provider/HR team that sees the benefits of e-Learning as being solely to do with cost-friendliness and effective skills transfer is one that fails to appreciate one of its biggest advantages.

Let me take you back a few years, to the dawn of the electronic age. Back then, many of the misty-eyed idealists pioneering the kind of technologies we now take for granted were doing so for the greater good. For some, the ‘e’ wasn’t about helping big business get bigger. Instead it was about creating a technology that would be a leveller. It wasn’t going to matter who you were, where you lived or what views you held. Everyone would have access to the same resources. From the global corporation to the village community to the man on the street, the ‘e’ would make put us all on the same level.

Now, does that sound familiar? Maybe not. Things rarely turn out as the idealists hope. However, within the learning provider community, there are some of us who are actively working towards equality of training. The best example of this is in the form of disabled access to e-Learning courses.

According to the Labour Market Survey of 1999 there are currently about 3.1 million disabled people in employment, which equates to 12 per cent of the total workforce. Traditional classroom-based training can be problematic for people with disabilities for several reasons. Travelling to and from training for those who are immobile is inconvenient. For those with hearing and visual impairments, classroom-based training can also be difficult. One way of ensuring that all your staff, regardless of their ability, have easy access to consistent training is through implementing e-Learning, and for HR and training departments it is a welcome alternative to classroom-based training because of the flexibility and accessibility it offers. It can be carried out in the office or at home so travelling no longer becomes a problem. Good quality e-Learning contains high levels of text, audio and video which makes it easier for those with visual or hearing disabilities.

And good news for trainers - progress is being made to make e-Learning even more accessible. New technologies are constantly being tested and formulated to make learning as easy as possible for the disabled. Training providers are starting to integrate assistive technology - the technology used to provide easier access to learning technologies for people with disabilities - into their e-Learning solutions. To give you an example, how do you navigate an online course without the use of a mouse? With assistive technologies, if an individual is unable to use a mouse he or she can easily navigate a course using the keyboard.

This is significant progress which will raise the standards of accessibility and lower some of the barriers facing people with mobility, hearing and visual impairments. Courses that do not integrate assistive technologies mean that learners with disabilities have to deploy specialised third-party devices or technologies in addition to the courseware, which can set back learning progress.

With 6.6 million disabled people at a working age (approximately 20 per cent of the total workforce), the government is actively encouraging businesses to recruit disabled people . And while organisations are becoming more and more aware of their obligations to disabled people we still have a long way to go, and as we get there the provision of accessible training is going to become an increasingly important issue.

Fortunately new e-Learning technologies are helping many HR and training managers to provide equality in training for every member of staff, which for the many disabled employees in the UK is welcome progress.

So we might not yet be in the technological utopia of the ‘e’ pioneers, but we’re certainly in the process of levelling the playing field.


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