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How to make e-learning work

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In the second part of our look at the pros and cons of e-learning Tony Treacy, Business Development Manager for Solent Training & Development Ltd, sets out how to make e-learning work for your organisation.


Consider this: you want to learn to swim and you’ve found an online swimming course. You study diligently, pass the post-course assessment and head off to your nearest swimming pool.
Chances are you’ll probably drown.
What you should have done is taken an instructor-led course. At least you would have learned how not to drown, and at best how to swim.
E-learning works well when it is utilised well by all involved. It’s about knowing what e-learning is, before you attempt to engage with it.

What is e-learning?
The term e-learning is used to mean learning when using both a computer and the Internet. This may sound like a statement of the obvious but e-learning often gets confused with computer-based training (CBT), which, more often than not, is CD based courseware with no Internet involvement.

Why is the Internet so important to e-learning?
The Internet gives e-learning providers the opportunity to support learners, in real time, with both peer-to-peer and tutor support. This is very important to e-learning students who do not want to learn in isolation.
The Internet gives both the learner and provider the ability to communicate with each other. It also gives the learner flexibility to engage when and from where they want.

The courses
Courses are, usually, developed by e-learning content providers; these are specialised firms who bring together both educationalists and technologists to develop the content.
A rule of thumb in the industry is that it takes 200 hours of development to get one hour of finished e-learning.
This is very expensive to produce but the content providers get their return on investment by volume sales and this is known as ‘off-the-shelf’ content.
Large employers also develop their own content. The European Computer Driving Licence is an early example of this – it was developed in-house by Volvo to train their staff worldwide in ICT.

Key components of quality e-learning
Content will always fall somewhere on the spectrum from being of questionable quality to being really effective and the difference is instructional design. This is where the educationalists don’t compromise on the learning objectives with the technologists. It is the teacher telling the techie 'make my course web-enabled and interactive'.
Obviously, some developers take shortcuts. Others follow certification syllabi and match the learning objectives to exam criteria, the respective exam board will then certify the course and this is the really effective end of the spectrum.
Students will engage with their e-learning through a virtual learning environment (VLE), which is a website that enables the learning to take place. The VLE needs to be easy to navigate, enable the learner for find what they want easily and offer support if needed.
The e-learning purchaser also needs to ask whether tutor and peer-to-peer support will cost extra and whether technical support will be available.

How to get a student with no IT experience on to an e-learning programme
Not through e-learning because they don’t know how and someone has to show them, this is known as blended learning.
Blended learning is when you combine instructor led training (ILT) with e-learning and this is a must for ICT beginners.
Training providers use the first session, or more, to get the student up and running and this is usually provided as part of their information, advice and guidance (IAG) service.

Give staff the time they need to carry out e-learning
There are employers who expect employees to do e-learning in their own time with no recompense. This causes friction between the learner and trainer, and the trainer and the person paying for the course.
Time needs to be scheduled during the working day for staff to conduct their training. Try to minimise interruptions and allow them to concentrate, and do keep the training limited to normal working hours only.
The company will benefit as its staff will be more involved in their training because they believe the company cares, it also gets staff trained without conflict.

Benefits of e-learning
There are many benefits to e-learning when used wisely and in the right context:


  • It is usually cheaper than ILT because there are no travel costs or expenses.

  • It is flexible in that learners can engage when they want and from where they want.

  • The instructor never fades or has a bad day.

  • Learners can skip what they already know and concentrate on what they need to know and learn at their own pace.

  • It can be fully supported or not, the choice is with the student.

E-learning is not for everyone nor is every course suitable for it, but when you get things right, it’s a great method of training for everyone involved.

Further information
If you want to know more about the range of online courses available throughout the world, log onto www.worldwidelearn.com.
A good resource within the UK is www.trainingpages.net.
They have both e-learning and ILT courses listed, check out the prices for the same course through both delivery methods.

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