As the speed of change increases so does the need for learning more and acquiring knowledge faster. The advent of e-learning came about as technology enabled it, and the pressures of time and expenses challenged training professionals and learners to seek a better way than formal face-to-face instructor-led training (ILT).
This article explores the history of e-learning, suggestions for developing effective e-learning, why organizations invest in e-learning, and the important role of e-learning in informal learning and blended approaches to learning design.
History of e-Learning
The term e-Learning was coined about 15 years ago and generally refers to digital content with a technology interface, often Internet-enabled. This includes CD-ROM games or training courses, a virtual classroom within a learning management system (LMS), self-directed searches on the Internet, shared documents, and online books.
To enable learning, regardless of the form that learning takes, we seek to capture learners’ attention, engage learners in relevant content, and help learners make a connection between learning content and personal job responsibilities. Most experts agree good e-learning is much more than a PowerPoint presentation and depends on the skills of the developer to apply good design principles into the program.
Good e-Learning Design
Instructional design for e-learning is similar to ILT. The ADDIE model (analyze, design, develop, implement, evaluate) is a common instructional design structure for ILT and equally appropriate for e-learning. Good e-learning design starts with a number of assessments.
First of all, we must ask how we will measure success of the program. The best time to think about evaluation is during the analysis phase so that evaluation can be built into the program and not dealt with as an after thought. Evaluation is a critical element of any learning program. Future blog postings will address learning program evaluation.
Additional questions during the analysis phase include:
- What are the learners’ needs?
- What level of detail is required?
- What activities will deliver relevance to learners?
- How much time is available?
- How will the program be delivered?
Armed with answers to these questions, the instructional designer constructs a program to provide information in an engaging manner that nurtures learning. With the assistance of computer programming, the e-learning session can be designed so the learner must demonstrate mastery of the material before moving to the next module. Activities and discussions can be programmed into the course to increase engagement of participants, and thus the likelihood of learning occurring.
Time is a critical factor. Longer programs may include material grouped in meaningful sections that build upon each other. Shorter programs may include a sharp focus on one or two goals. The goals of the program must be aligned with the time devoted to the topic, including any activities and assessments.
Delivery can be asynchronous where participants sign in and work on the program when their individual schedules permit, or a virtual classroom design where participants sign in at an appointed time from many locations across the globe. Other delivery options include informal on-the-job learning, a knowledge management database, or a blend of these options.
Why Invest in e-Learning?
Organizations invest in e-learning for many reasons. A company may want to increase access to learning material, provide learners a self-paced option, have less disruption in the workforce, provide better consistency of messages, update content and track participation more efficiently, and achieve lower costs.
Unlike formal face-to-face courses, e-learning can deliver “just-in-time” learning. If participants are exposed to material and then have the opportunity to apply that information to their job, the participants are more likely to learn the material. Call Centers can schedule worker e-learning near real-time as call volumes allow, and supervisors identify an area of weakness.
Cost effectiveness is realized through less travel costs for trainers and participants, and productivity losses due to travel and time away from the job. In addition, e-learning is more efficient than face-to-face programs due to its “shelf life.” An e-learning course may remain relevant for a year or more without major revisions. Minor revisions can be made as needed.
The shelf life of e-learning make it particularly valuable when a company wants information delivered consistently, such as regulations and other legal issues. One e-learning course can benefit thousands and even millions of people. To personally confirm this, take a stroll on YouTube for “How To” videos, or lectures such as Randy Pausch’s “The Last Lecture” series viewed by more than 17 million people and counting.
Informal on-the-job e-learning is more timely than formal face-to-face or e-learning programs. Formal programs generally require several weeks and possibly several months to develop. Research shows 70% of what we learn is through our daily tasks, whereas only 10% of learning is through formal programs. By increasing focus on real-time coaching, dialogue, and access to documentation, e-learning becomes a tool to support learners where they are most likely to learn, and can provide support in days rather than weeks.
An example could be a worker submits areas of concern to her coach. The coach, several time zones away and working in a home office, researches the issues and records a response, explaining the issue and directing the worker to other sources. The coach could also videoconference with the worker and review information real-time. Another example might be workers with similar responsibilities and living in different countries, accessing a chat room to share information and determine additional learning needs for the group — a community of practice.
The Role of e-Learning in Blended Learning Approaches
Perhaps e-learning’s greatest value is its role as part of a blended learning approach where learners “meet” online for part of a training program, share insights about material they have read and reflected upon, and then meet face-to-face to discuss what they have learned, how they will apply what they have learned, and engage in experiential activities to reinforce learning. Including an e-learning design element in a face-to-face course fills an important role in post-training support.
Through an e-learning element in which the instructor checks in with participants and provides coaching, learning is reinforced. Learning participants might also access an online “community” and continue sharing what they have learned and how they have applied their learning on the job.
In summary, as organizations focus on learning needs to achieve business results, the importance of e-learning continues to increase. As a primary learning method or as reinforcement of other learning methods, e-learning provides a flexible learning environment and delivers cost efficiencies. Research has shown learners like flexibility and options.
Through various program evaluation methods we can determine how online learning stacks up to its objectives and how we can ensure that eLearning programs do indeed deliver. Read more on the program evaluation of online learning.
CATMEDIA is an award-winning Inc. 500 company based in Atlanta, Georgia. Founded in 1997, the company specializes in advertising, creative services, media production, program management, training, and human resource management. As a Women Owned Small Business (WOSB), CATMEDIA provides world-class customer service and innovative solutions to government and commercial clients. Current CATMEDIA clients include Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), Office of Personnel Management (OPM), and the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA).