Authoring tools make it possible for training and learning and development departments to create their own e-learning content. So what’s involved?
In just 18 months, Everyday Financial Solutions (EFS), part of the Littlewoods Shop Direct Group of companies, has created more than 2,000 hours of e-learning and saved more than £114,000 in training costs.
Atlantic Link, which provided EFS with the tools and training to create the learning, says the past 12 months has seen not only its client base grow but also customers coming back to request more licences. While cost and time-savings are motivation enough to take e-learning production in-house, it also makes sense, given that a lot of potential learning content actually resides within an organisation.
“It used to be that the guys with the knowledge transferred it to the designer, who interpreted it and, hopefully, got it right,” says Sam Morgan, company director of Atlantic Link. “But we felt there had to be a better way, and one that would avoid costly mistakes. So we put the subject matter experts in control.”
The e-learning authoring software market has evolved over the past two years, driven by the arrival of rapid e-learning authoring tools, which make it possible to create an e-learning program in a matter of hours rather than weeks. Rapid development tools include Atlantic Link’s Content Point, Capture Point and Knowledge Point, the Articulate suite, Epic’s Rapid Create and ViewletBuilder, sold in the UK by Productivity4You.
Each has different features but all have relatively short learning curves. Articulate Presenter allows users to create e-learning by adding narration and interactivity to a PowerPoint file. Capture Point is suitable for IT training, as it lends itself to interactive simulation creation. Other packages take a template approach, giving the developer a library of options to choose from.
We asked suppliers how much these packages cost. Atlantic Link refused to say, but ViewletBuilder 5 Pro, for Windows, costs £225 for a single licence and £925 for five. Articulate’s Presenter 5 Pro is $699 (about £350) and Presenter 5 Standard $499 (about £250). But be warned: many US software suppliers seem to believe one dollar equals one pound when it comes to price conversions.
But DIY e-learning doesn’t have to be rapid. Neil Lasher, of e-learning specialist Trainer1 and deputy chairman of the eLearning Network, says organisations must think carefully before deciding which development route to take. “Rapid development is definitely here but people need to learn how and when to use it. They should ask ‘does it need to be delivered quickly?’ and, if so, ‘why?’. ‘Is it because we didn’t plan things well enough?’.”
He adds that training and development departments tend to be guided by the supplier, but in reality they may need more than one tool.
Content management systems
Authoring tools are not the only way to produce learning material in-house. Content management systems, such as Claromentis Enterprise Content Manager, Microsoft’s Office SharePoint and EasySite from EIBS, make it easy to create and publish content on an intranet or dedicated learning portal. Added to this, what are known as Web 2.0 tools, such as blogs, wikis and podcasts, are also forming the basis for pieces of learning
Lasher is right to point out that much of the material produced this way falls into the category of performance support rather than e-learning per se. Nonetheless, such tools form part of the mix for training and development departments that want to create and disseminate more content themselves and are invaluable for informal learning. Their strength, says Dominic Mason, of learning and development and business strategy consultancy Haizum, lies in their ubiquity.
“From small businesses to global corporations with multiple operating companies, the technology driving these learning and development changes are simple, proven and used on a day-to-day basis by the workforce,” says Mason.
He also believes interactive Web 2.0 trends, such as ranking web pages to recommend a piece of learning to the rest of the workforce, are also likely to be important in the future and will help training and development departments ensure learning hits the spot.
Everyday Financial Solutions (EFS) faced two challenges when it decided to create its own e-learning, says its acting head of learning and development Jane Dempsey. “We had to give our training and development team the skills to enable them to create the training and introduce e-learning into the culture of the team and company.”
This was partly done in partnership with Atlantic Link, which provided the rapid e-learning development tools.
Eighteen months later, EFS has produced more than 2,000 hours of e-learning focusing on areas such as induction, compliance, product know-how, system simulation and some soft skills. The system simulation training works particularly well, says Dempsey. But the soft skills training is more challenging to build into e-learning, says Helen Tyson, an e-learning design specialist who was recruited for the project.
So far more than 1,500 employees have taken the courses. This has, apparently, saved the company more than £114,000 in training costs. The savings continue to rise as more courses are created.
So how did the company take to e-learning? Dempsey says “culturally”, they have had a varied reaction. “There will always be some people who are more ready to accept something new but overall it has gone down well.”
For the learning and development team, it has proved an important part of their own career development, says Tyson. “It demonstrates an investment in them as we are helping them to develop their skills and stay at the cutting edge.”