New to Elearning and learning technology? Welcome to the party…
We know that if you’re new to elearning, it can all seem a bit mystifying – there’s a lot of jargon talked out there. So let’s keep things simple:
What is elearning?
There are probably a thousand definitions, but you can’t go far wrong with this one:
"Elearning is the use of technology to enable people to learn anytime and anywhere."
What does it look like?
Elearning can include a lot of different types of learning. When people say elearning, typically what they mean is online modules which learners work through on their own, at their own pace. These are typically delivered over the internet, but can also be delivered via CD, or downloaded.
These can include a range of media, including flash animations, audio and video. They often have some assessment component to test for understanding.
For elearning courses, you have two main choices:
- Custom or bespoke elearning
- Generic or off-the-shelf elearning
You can develop some custom (or bespoke, same thing) elearning, which means that a company like us designs a solution specifically for you with your content and branding or you could consider generic or ‘off the shelf’ elearning. Many organisations have generic titles available which cover the basics – see our Kineo Essentials range for an example (though we can also customise these for you).
Bespoke content is generally more expensive to develop initially but there are no ongoing licence fees for the content. Generic content can have a higher lifetime cost because of ongoing licence fees. Generic content is generally ready to go, so it can be deployed very quickly but bespoke content is much more tailored to your content, your culture and your audience.
Other Forms of Elearning
Elearning can mean a lot more than just a self-study online course. The definition has been broadened to include any form of learning which uses technology to help people learn, this can include:
- Virtual classrooms, where an online tutor can interact in real time with learners, give presentations, ask questions (like WebEx)
- Audio conferencing
- Chat rooms
- Discussion forums
- Instant messaging
- Online games
…and the list goes on.
Putting together two or more of these forms of learning is called blended learning. It’s a phrase you hear a lot in this industry. It simply means combining different methods of learning – including non elearning ones. So a typical blend might be some preparatory elearning online, then a workshop, followed up with a virtual classroom session, some online self study and then an assessment, over several weeks.
Learning Management Systems (LMSs)
An LMS is an online system which gives learners access to your elearning courses. It’s effectively an online site which houses your learning. It usually tracks completion, and can also help you to manage face to face courses. Sometimes it includes features like discussion forums and rating systems for courses. These days an LMS can also be called a learning portal or a performance portal and can look like a typical intranet or website. The world’s most popular LMS is called Moodle. We have co-developed a distribution of Moodle called Totara. It's designed for the enterprise and has a range of additional features for business. Find out more about our LMS services here.
What’s in it for you? What are the benefits?
You’ve probably got some inkling of the benefits of elearning or you wouldn’t have gone looking for it… but here are a few of them:
1. Travel costs = zero
May as well start with the no-brainer. Many organizations are currently putting a lockdown on all travel for employees, while still expecting training delivery to persist. This plays very well to elearning, as it has no travel cost. If you want to argue the benefits for elearning, start there. With increasing numbers of home workers, bear in mind that their travel costs can also be reduced as they don’t need to get into an office for training events. It helps to have a few stats to support this:
Dow Chemical reduced average spending of $95 per learner / per course on classroom training, to only $11 per learner / per course with electronic delivery, giving rise to an annual saving of $34 million (Shepherd, 2002).
2. Marginal cost of delivery = zero
The cost of elearning is all in the production. There’s no marginal cost of delivery – rolling our elearning to 100 or 10,000 learners costs the same, assuming you’re not producing thousands of CD ROMS (and if you are – we assume you are also still listening to tapes in your ghetto blaster to score double retro points). No classrooms, no additional trainer costs, no lunches – and binders. Nice for your CFO – and the environment, lest we forget.
3. Learner time is better spent
Elearning is generally shorter than classroom training on the same subject by up to 25-60% (according to Brandon Hall, 2001 and Rosenberg 2001). Time is compressed in elearning, as you don’t have all the logistics that come with the classroom: welcomes, introductions, setting up and winding up sessions, breaks and the like. Since the biggest cost of any training is learner time spent in training, this makes a big difference to the bottom line.
Need an example? Ernst & Young cut training costs 35 percent while improving consistency and scalability. They condensed about 2,900 hours of classroom training into 700 hours of web-based learning, 200 hours of distance learning and 500 hours of classroom instruction, a cut of 52 percent. (Brandon Hall, 2000).
4. It works for specialist content too
Don’t think you have to be at the 1,000+ learners level before elearning makes sense. The cost per hour of elearning can be dramatically reduced by using low-cost or open source tools, and taking on some tasks in-house. This means that even quite specialized areas which may have small audiences can still use elearning and from a cost perspective come out better than they would with a classroom alternative.
But is elearning more effective?
A major research study by the US Department of Education in 2009 concluded that, on average, learners using elearning performed better than those receiving face-to-face instruction.
The report Evaluation of Evidence-Based Practices in Online Learning - A Meta-Analysis and Review of Online Learning Studies, was a study of the research over the last 12 years from 1996 to 2008. It was a major study into the effectiveness of blended and online learning compared to face to face instruction. The conclusion of the report is that in comparisons of “blends of online and face-to-face instruction with conventional face-to-face classes, blended instruction has been more effective, providing a rationale for the effort required to design and implement blended approaches. Even when used by itself, online learning appears to offer a modest advantage over conventional classroom instruction.”
Here are some reasons beyond the cost and time savings to consider elearning and more blended aproaches to learning:
1. Freedom to go wrong - privately
Is learning always better done in a group? Not for learners who prefer a more private experience. Learners may not want to reveal their lack of understanding of a topic. They may not want to fail publicly. It’s the reason that many role plays just don’t work in facilitator-led environments – many learners are just not comfortable with demonstrating their shortcomings in front of peers. Elearning affords a private experience, enabling learners to explore mistakes and learn from them, without any fear of what others think. More willingness to explore, make mistakes and learn from them means a better and more applicable learning experience.
2. Better approximation of reality
Elearning is not the same as learning by doing on the job. But if it’s well designed, it can get a lot closer to approximating reality than classroom sessions do. Most knowledge workers learn, work and communicate using computers. So providing training and support via technology is more natural than moving people into a decontextualized training room. Goal-based scenarios which emulate the worker’s real environment can do a pretty good job of emulating real work tasks. If they incorporate real-world data such as emails, reports and websites and provide learners with realistic challenges, then you’re already a lot closer to reality than the more traditional ‘tell’ environments of the classroom.
3. Higher consistency
If you’re looking to communicate a key message, how to interpret a policy or set of guidelines, there’s the risk of inconsistency whenever a group of facilitators are delivering it. There’s the possibility that a key point will be missed, or mis-communicated. Elearning delivers the same core point to everyone, and well designed assessments and formative questions can check for understanding and more importantly the ability to apply the points on the job. The more consistent the learning experience, the lower the risk of introducing errors on the job.
4. More learner control
Learners in classroom environments have very little control. They attend based on a centralized schedule which may not be in tune with when they actually need training. When they do get to attend, they’re locked into one speed: the one the facilitator chooses. If they’re struggling to keep up, or are bored and losing interest, there’s very little they can do. Elearning is available on demand. The learner gets to be in control of the pace, and sections can be revisited whenever learners need to refresh, or the learning suddenly becomes relevant, e.g., two days before performance reviews. Also, because elearning is generally designed to be far shorter and more concise than classroom training, the likelihood of fatigue and drop-off in attention span and retention levels is reduced.
We like to think at Kineo that you can use elearning in some way to address practically any training need (and we’ve certainly tried most of them). Some of the most common subjects that organisations use elearning for include:
• Sales training
• Product knowledge
• Health and safety
• Performance management
• Systems / process training
• Marketing and communications
At City & Guilds Kineo we have experience in all of these areas. Find out how we can help you with the most common training and performance needs here.
Sounds good….now what?
If you’re looking at doing elearning for the first time, we’d be happy to help you. We can help you select the right first project, explain the options available to you, and of course design and develop a great first elearning course for you. Get in touch with us.
You can also find all sorts of free advice and guidance on elearning in our Resources area.
You can also read case studies of how we've helped clients address their learning challenge with elearning, LMS and blended solutions. See our case studies here.