Choose an on-line training system

Thinking of investing in an on-line training system, but don’t know how to choose? Joanna Springer offers a cribsheet of questions to put to potential suppliers

Before you even begin to consider the platform over which to deliver your training, you must of course ask yourself what your training needs and objectives are. Top line objectives might typically be to reduce training costs and to train more people, increase access and widen participation, improve content retention or revitalise your programmes.

Further issues and objectives will undoubtedly fall out of these top-line descriptions, so be as comprehensive as you can in setting these out. Think about such issues as:

  • Are there standard training courses that everyone must take?

  • Can you use your existing training courses?

  • Will learners and tutors be able to interact as you need them to?

  • Are learners allowed to study at their own pace or will deadlines be involved?

  • Will all your staff receive the same training service regardless of location?

The answers to these kinds of questions should direct you to a solution which will fit your needs, but don’t overlook one of the main requirements of a training management system – that it should be easy to use.

Setting your objectives is not only about content and support – it is vital to consider carefully the needs of your learner audience. What type of training environment are they used to? Will they be receptive to change and the introduction of an on-line training system? Unless people buy into this new way of training, it won’t get used, so think about the way you will market and promote it internally.

There is a wide range of on-line training packages in the marketplace and each has a different pricing structure. In an ideal world you would calculate the usage costs for training and apportion this as your budget for implementation. But there are several peripheral issues relating to licensing costs that you will need to take into account.

To establish how much implementing an on-line training system will cost, ask some very specific questions:

  • What format will my materials need to be stored in?

  • Will I need to create or re-create my training materials? If the answer is yes this will cost time and money.

  • What is the licensing structure, eg per user, per workstation, storage costs?

  • What are the hardware/software requirements?

  • Will system training cost extra?

  • What is the work involved for set-up, ie staff time and resource?

Expect the largest chunk of your costs to be eaten up by the preparation and implementation stages as this involves loading your content, staff training and licensing.

With a clear idea on budget it is now time to choose your supply partner.

Venturing into a new training system is a big commitment and clearly the last thing you want is to invest in a product and then be left alone to fathom it out. Some online training systems can be bought off-the-shelf with limited after-sales support and training, which can leave you feeling lost.

When looking at systems, find out who is behind them and how they work with their clients. Satisfy yourself about:

  • Their client base – do you fit into it?

  • Will they work with you to understand and meet your training objectives?

  • What is their customer service policy?

  • Will they just deliver a training system, or will they help to make it work?

  • How long have they been in the market place and do they have a proven record for on-line training delivery?

  • Has the system been developed in close partnership with educational or training organisations to ensure they address the real issues behind remote and work-based online training?

You will have to work closely with your chosen partner so make sure that you get on with key people who will work with you on its implementation.

When deciding on your training materials, make the most of your existing course content. Some training materials will easily lend themselves to online delivery, some others may need to be revised. If the content works, then the training will probably work. Materials designed for remote delivery may be particularly suitable for an online system.

Although many packages provide you with tools to convert your existing content into the format suitable for use over the system’s platform, this can be a difficult process. Some on-line systems will let you use your material in its original format without any authoring work.

Research has shown that people are most receptive to receiving small digestible chunks of information through their PC rather than downloading huge documents to work from, so design your content with this in mind. Some on-line systems let you enhance your materials with voice commentary and additional notes that can make the materials feel more "human" when received via a PC.

Preparing your course material and installing it on to an online system can be time consuming but for some systems it will prove to be easier than you think.

Once your material is established any good online system will feature simple maintenance tools which will allow you to easily keep the information up to date.

Tutor and learner interaction is one of the main motivational factors in a training programme. A PC may be excellent for many things, but it cannot replace human contact. On-line training systems offer various facilities for learner support so it is worth spending time at this stage to ensure that support needs are carefully considered and that the system can meet them.

Some key issues are:

  • How are learners able to contact their tutors?

  • Should tutors know which learners are logged on and where?

  • How is training information passed between learners and tutors?

  • How do tutors provide feedback to learners?

  • Where is work stored? Is it secure?

  • What level of "on-demand" support do your require for learners? And can the on-line system under consideration meet this need?

  • Can learners’ progress be audited and tracked through the system?

Different online environments offer different support mechanisms, so it is important to find out which mechanisms would meet your organisation’s requirements.

Once you have the right partner to work with you, the rest will follow on.

Joanna Springer works at IMS Publishing, creator of the Link2Learning on-line education and training system used in the educational and corporate markets

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