Your guide to e-learning: How to get started with e-learning

Getting
started with e-learning is not straight-forward, as many technological,
financial and cultural issues have to come into play. Don’t make the mistake of
looking at e-learning purely as a technology decision.

Where
do I start?

You
will usually need a clear rationale or business case to drive your organisation
to consider new approaches. Your rationale is likely to be based around a
specific “pain area” within your organisation, such as a new IT system
roll-out, a merger or a more general need to cut costs. This business problem
provides a clear agenda for getting e-learning to work for your organisation in
a targeted way.

Engage
all key stakeholders

You
should look to involve key stakeholders within your organisation such as senior
executives, the IT department, HR and Training as early as possible. Getting
management buy-in is a key factor in the success of your e-learning initiative.

Define
your business requirements

Before
looking at different systems you must do your homework in terms of your
particular business objective, what your learning programme needs to achieve
and what you want the technology to be able to do. This definition of your
“business rules” will form the framework of your workplan and your evaluation
of suppliers.


The target audience for the learning programme (roles, demographics and
locations)


Definition of specific and unique programme requirements


Administration requirements (management of content and users)


Assessment requirements (What skills/competencies will you need to test?)


Reporting requirement (Completions, performance, costs)


IT infrastructure audit


People you will need (Internal consultants, project managers, tutors, mentors)

Build
a business case

At
the early stages you will need to put together a high-level business case to
identify the costs and potential return on investment of the e-learning project
when compared to alternative approaches. This will need internal research
looking at current training costs and estimated staffing needs and external
research of suppliers.

If
e-learning appears to provide significant advantages over existing processes (a
much lower per head cost of training, for example) your stakeholders may choose
to move forward.

Develop
your strategy

Now
you understand what your requirements are, you will need to determine how you
are going to achieve your goals. Developing an e-learning strategy can vary in
scope from a corporate-wide e-learning strategy to a project-specific
e-learning strategy. You will need to analyse the various options available and
recommend an optimal direction on the basis of cost, timing, delivery methods,
content types and levels, target audience, change management implications and
the sequencing and roll-out of e-learning in your organisation

Solution
design

The
solutions design stage will operationalise your strategy and drill down on the
components that need to be in place. This is a complex process and most
organisations will need external expertise to determinate the appropriate combinations
of technology and content to achieve your programme goals.

Supplier
evaluation

You
will then need to take this solution blueprint and begin to investigate and
evaluate various e-learning suppliers against the specific requirements for the
project.

Some
organisations may use a formalised RFP (request for proposal) process whereas
others may use less structured approaches. Your document will need to clarify
the project description and scope, technical specifications required, and other
information such as pricing, supplier background, product roadmap and
references.

How
to select a platform

The
Learning Management System (LMS) is the core piece of technology that drives
most e-learning strategies and deployments and the right choice for you will
depend on your unique requirements. A complex system may list some interesting
features, but think more about your user’s experience on a day-to-day basis and
get “hands on” experience of various systems. Here we identify some of the
questions you should consider to make the right selection.

Ask
the company…


How long it has been established


Who its customers are and if you can contact them?


Which projects it has worked on similar to your needs


What its plans are for the product’s future development?

Partners


Which content and technology partners do they bring to the table?

Features
against business requirements

Does
the technology do what you need it to do in areas such as:


Competency and skills assessment


Authoring


Collaboration


Administration of content and users


Tracking and reporting


Integration with other enterprise systems (ERP, HRIS, for example)


Management of offline training

Techie
stuff


What are the IT infrastructure requirements in terms of hardware and software?


How scalable is the system?

Pricing


How is the system priced?


What is the ongoing cost of ownership?

Support
and services


What maintenance provisions are available in the standard contract?


What technical and user support services are available?

Run
a pilot

To
begin with, a large-scale e-learning implementation would be misguided for
organisations with no experience in this area. A logical first step is a pilot
project, a small-scale implementation designed to generate useful data points
and test the value of e-learning.

An
ASP is seen as the best pilot option as it provides a simpler and lower risk
option with lower associated costs.

Guidelines
for a pilot project


Focus on an application of e-learning where the training requirement is high


Define a small number of users (depending on your size)


Needs analysis workshop (define pilot scope)


Evaluation design (set targets, success factors)


Implementation (internal or ASP)


Reporting workshop (measure and evaluate)

Measure

You
will now have clear and usable data points that will help you calibrate and
refine your subsequent direction and expenditure. This will include the
cultural impact on the users of the system.

Programme
roll-out

Your
e-learning strategy must be seen as a progressive investment and new aspects
and functions should be phased in step-by-step in a logical way.

How
to integrate e-learning with classroom learning

E-learning
is by no means a panacea for all. It’s all too easy for e-learning companies to
encourage you to “throw the baby out with the bath water”, but talking about
wholesale replacement of existing approaches is misguided. What’s needed is
common sense, balancing the elements that are effective now with new
technology-led approaches.

You
must first determine the business requirement and the associated learning
requirements before determining the best delivery method or methods. E-learning
can offer remarkable results for particular types of education, such as IT
skills training, but there’s room for improvement with others where face- to
-face encounters are hard to recreate.

An
integrated approach can be considered, using e-learning components to support
and extend classroom learning events. Elliott Masie has used the term “digital
surrounds” to describe this approach. E-learning components that can “surround”
a classroom-based event would include online assessments, e-mail access to
tutors, collaborative tools and coursework. In this way e-learning extends the
learning process while compressing the amount of necessary face-to-face time.

To
ASP or not to ASP – that is the question

A
key decision you will have to make in planning your e-learning programme is
where to host the Learning Management System. Should it be installed on your
company’s own Intranet or network or should you sign up to an Application
Service Provider (ASP) who will host it for you?

Having
a system in-house affords you a greater degree of control but it can commit you
to purchasing, installing and supporting additional hardware. Intranet
deployments can allow you greater integration with other internal systems such
as HR, and often allow more administrative functions.

An
ASP solution can be set up very quickly and cost effectively because the
hardware and software is taken care of by the ASP provider. ASP solutions
generally rely on all participants having Internet access and you will need to
check with your IT department that firewall security restrictions will not
prevent you from accessing the content you need from the Web.

Your
guide to e-learning was published with Personnel Today on 3 April 2001. Written
by Paul English of Futuremedia Plc. Contibutors: Laurence Scotford, Chris
Robinson, Kay Philips

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