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Making a blend from e-learning


Mark Weber, CEO of Atticmedia, examines how to strike a balance between traditional learning and e-learning.

"Blended Training", or the mixing of e-learning with traditional training programmes, has definitely been one of those buzzwords that has increased in popularity recently. Cynically, though, one could say that it is an acceptance from the e-learning purists that e-learning cannot simply replace traditional training methods.

Blended e-learning can come in a variety of forms – from utilising technology to create shared spaces where users can interact in real time with each other – to programmes where the e-learning courses complement the traditional training. And the reality is with a modern corporation, where flexible working hours, remote working, changing work demands, that training needs to be provided in as many different forms as possible – possible both in economic terms and practical access terms.

The quantity of different technologies can make deciding on a true blended training approach a fairly daunting approach. Should mobiles be used? PDA's? Should DVD be looked at? Is the Intranet the best route? What happens when people are out of the office – will they still be able to access the training?

The reality is that there is no off-the-shelf answer to any of these questions. Every organisation is going to need an approach that matches their training requirements – reflecting both the types of knowledge that have to be shared, and the means by which it is accessed. Be wary of systems that promise an answer to all platforms – the reality is that not only will the content format change dramatically from platform to platform, but also the types of knowledge that work on that platform will be different.
Each potential delivery platform will reflect some key aspects of development:

  • How often does it need to be updated?
  • How engaging does the content need to be?
  • How quickly does it need to be able to be accessed?
  • How much content needs to be absorbed?
  • Decisions on these can have a serious effect on the health of blended e-learning programmes. If the application consists of a lot of complex information that needs to be absorbed in isolation from others, then engagement is critical. Animations, interactions etc. play a crucial role in ensuring that the user doesn't leave the training programme with a glazed look. Clicking 'next', 'next', 'next' through text will not guarantee that the user has understood even the slightest element.

    But if the application needs to be engaging but also constantly updateable, is this economically achievable? Animations are expensive, interactions take time to author and originate. Templates are critical to making this succeed. Rapid Development Tools can also help the process. But if the Tools are complex to use (often the price for freedom) then will the staffing costs and training costs around the tools cancel out the gains in rapid development.
    Key to all of this is balance.

    And this is balance between traditional learning and e-learning. A blended learning approach needs to evaluate the pros and cons of each route. It needs to accurately understand the budget implications of each route and decide whether the 'e' route or the traditional route is the most appropriate, or whether a combination of the two is best suited for the challenge.

    To put it simply, a truly effective blended training approach will only be successful if time and experimentation is put into the start of the programme. In the future it will all seem straight forward as to how different forms of training should be used. Now, we are still working out the best ways of doing this.


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