What is e-learning?

E-learning can be defined as “instruction delivered on a computer by CD-ROM, Internet or intranet.” While this is a fairly broad definition, e-learning, in a business environment, does contain almost all the features of traditional learning:.

Relevant content, instructional methodology, presentation tools (such as PowerPoint) and assessments,…all with the objective of enhancing knowledge and skills, as well as improving performance. To this definition, we can often add media (recorded audio and/or video) and software programs dedicated to the creation of e-learning courseware; again, not unlike traditional instruction processes.

Benefit of e-learning

e-Learning is reusable, cost effective training process, where content is prepared and paid for once but used again and again. It can be deployed rapidly and it is totally flexible to meet the needs of an organization. Once created, the material can be delivered anywhere and anytime with virtually no additional cost. Since e-learning is primarily self-directed, there is no need for individuals to resolve the typical conflicts between their ongoing work projects and required training; the courses are available to meet each individual’s schedule. And since the training is computer based, it can be scaled very effectively…delivering the same training to large numbers of employees at multiple locations at virtually the same time…or at any time at all.

e-Learning has the capability of providing the same material presented in a classroom, but since it is completely focused on the subject matter, it can take about half the time of the traditional class to conduct. Since there is no classroom, no assembly and no travel, e-learning is not constrained to any particular time or scheduled amount of time. Modules can be developed and delivered in very small increments so that they focus on a finite subject scope…just what’s needed and no more. Since this form of training doesn’t have to rely on a live trainer, there’s no need to cover the fixed costs associated with bringing an instructor into the classroom..travel, per diem expenses, minimum fees, and so on. You can deliver a five minute training session just as effectively as a five hour session. Most importantly, courses are delivered online and on demand. They are self-paced and can be paused or stopped by the user at any point…and when ready, the user can return to exactly that point. Unlike traditional training, the user remains available to the job site at any time during training. Try that in a traditional classroom!

e-Learning is also specific to your own environment…tailored to your needs and your specifications, leveraging the experience of your experts. It’s not broad theory, it’s not academic…it’s just what you do. Training can be focused on the “how to” elements of the process; for example, it’s very easy to demonstrate how to complete the fields in a new form that has just been introduced, or to review the steps in a newly implemented process.

When e-learning addresses a business process and regulatory compliance--to create alignment with organizational goals and mandatory requirements (an area of increasing concern to most organizations)--it can also help ensure that personnel are operating in a cohesive manner and according to the organization’s standard operating procedures. Compliance reduces liability.

e-Learning also adds directly to the bottom line. In a typical training environment, costs can run about $2,600 per day per person, considering travel, expenses, salaries and the cost of admission. This figure likely increases with the distance traveled and the amount of productive time lost. Then add to this constraint the lack of ability of most training to track and assess individual progress and provide reports in formats determined by the user (a major failure of most professional seminars), and you have a very tidy savings.

What systems are used in e-Learning ?

An e-learning system typically consists of three main elements:

1- A key element in any e-learning structure is a Learning Management System (LMS) or a Learning Content Management System (LCMS), a software program that stores and delivers the course content, and tracks student access and progress.

2- Another critical element of an e-learning system is a courseware development process (sometimes called authoring) that prepares the content for e-learning delivery. Despite the differences in technology and delivery methods, e-learning relies on essentially the same principles of most traditional learning methods, imparting new knowledge and skills that alter behavior and improve performance.

Typically, e-learning courseware produces training courses that comply with the SCORM standard, a set of technical standards for e-learning software products. The purpose of the SCORM standard is to tell programmers how to write their code so that it can “play well” with other e-learning software. According to several industry experts, SCORM governs how online learning content and Learning Management Systems (LMS) communicate with each other. SCORM does not speak to instructional design or any other pedagogical concern, it is purely a technical standard. The purpose of this standard is to enhance the interoperability of training materials from one system to another.

A recent development has been what is called “rapid deployment” training, using PowerPoint output converted to Flash for web delivery. Commonly used courseware development programs of this genre include Articulate Presenter (www.articulate.com) and Adobe Presenter (www.adobe.com), along with a number of similar programs that convert PowerPoint presentations to Flash for easier storage and relatively universal access. In some cases, content can also include video productions (in whole or in part) for web or streaming media delivery.

Learning Content Management Systems (LCMS) provide these capabilities as an integrated part of their packages. Selecting an e-Learning and training platform such as an LCMS, offers a natural solution for those needing an easy to use system that can be implemented quickly.

3- The final element is a delivery and receiving platform that presents the training to the learner. This typically resembles a client/server environment when used on the Internet or an intranet, ensuring the user access to the material. On occasion, e-learning is delivered through a CD-ROM or DVD that is physically delivered to the learner. This media can be used on a computer or on any CD or DVD player capable of reproducing video, replacing, in a way, the old-fashioned training movie.

This delivery platform typically requires a host using TCP/IP. Today, many systems are in place that leverage Web 2.0 technology. Web 2.0 sites allow users to collaborate or to change content, whereas earlier systems limit users to just viewing the material presented. Web 2.0 systems improve access to simulations and games that enhance and reinforce learning. Make sure you select LMS/LCMS platforms which leverage the capabilities of Web 2.0 technology to the advantage of the user.

We also see e-learning delivered through teleconference presentations such as those provided by Webex or GoToMeeting. Although presentations are typically “live” and instructor-led, the platform can also be used to deliver static, pre-recorded materials. These programs are designed in ways that enable them to provide virtual classrooms; they use dynamics that enable the users and presenters to interact.

Any of these elements can be combined in a number of ways to enable a full spectrum of e-learning technology…from content creation, to content access and delivery. This system offers tools for creating, delivering, tracking, reporting, and administration, all on a hosted website dedicated to each specific user. What’s most remarkable about systems such as this is their ability to be deployed almost immediately, with setup taking less than a day. Students, too, find it user friendly and require little or no training to get started.