eLearning has been part of the training scene for many years, but it has become increasingly important now that high-speed broadband internet is widely available.
It usually takes the form of lesson materials, incorporating varying degrees of student interactivity, that can be accessed through a computer, tablet or smartphone over the internet, along with central collection of results on student activity and attainment.
In this form, there is no online participation of an instructor; student interaction is purely with the materials and programs on the lesson supplier’s server.
Other types of eLearning include webinar formats – a live instructor guides remote students through a presentation. This provides some of the benefits of conventional classroom sessions – the instructor can respond flexibly to specific concerns of the students.
The advantages of eLearning:
Courseware – the lesson materials, held on a server and streamed to students as required
Learning Management System (LMS). A software system that handles the registration of students on courses, sending out of instructions, recording of student activity and attainment.
There are many suppliers of LMS products, and large-scale users of eLearning will often make use of these. However courseware suppliers will usually supply LMS facilities as part of their service to their customers.
Bespoke materials or off-the-shelf?
Some subjects are well suited to a “generic” treatment, and so are well provided for by way of off-the shelf materials. If these are of good quality, they represent excellent value.
Where a generic product provides a reasonable fit with the specific needs of an organization, it can be cost-effective to adapt or extend it with bespoke material.
Development of eLearning materials from scratch is a labour-intensive process, and so costs can be high. Organisations who are considering the commissioning of courseware should take into account not only the costs of the developer, but also the internal resources that will be needed to support the project.
What makes for quality in eLearning materials?
It is widely agreed that the quality of commercially-available courseware is highly variable. At its most basic, material can be produced that is essentially “page turning” through screens that are much like PowerPoint presentations, with occasional questions and a quiz at the end. These provide a poor experience for learners, many of whom will simply abandon the course.
There is a well-established body of psychological research on lesson effectiveness, which emphasizes correct interaction design – the engagement of the student’s learning processes by questions which, for example, require making use of information rather than simply memorizing it.
The use of rich media such as video is often recommended as a means of maintaining student interest. This is clearly essential when teaching soft skills that involve interacting with others. However in other settings its use can conflict with other priorities.
Prospective purchasers and commissioners of courseware are strongly advised to spend time looking at demonstration material from suppliers, so they can form their own judgements about the design approach that is being taken and its suitability for their audience.
If we provide eLearning, will our staff use it?
Uptake of eLearning provision will depend on several factors. Preparation of students is important, and ideally there should be a link to a staff development programme or similar. It is important to follow up those who are not spending time on the course – the learning management system makes this straightforward
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