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How to make good Elearning succeed in your Organization

Written By: Michelle Johnston

1.What will good ELearning do for your Organization?

According to a study by the IDC, worldwide spending on ELearning will surpass $23 billion by the end of 2004. However, with the current economic climate, companies are less inclined to spend money unless they get a great return on their investment. So exactly why is ELearning so popular?

1. What will good ELearning do for your organization?

ELearning can be much more effective, and cheaper than more traditional learning methods for many reasons.

ELearning can tailor itself in real time in response to student progress. Immediate feedback allows the students progress to be monitored and the learning materials to be automatically adjusted accordingly. The student can also monitor his/her own progress in an ELearning environment much more easily than in traditional learning environments.

Elearning can employ all of the senses in the learning process, by using the latest technologies. People remember 10 percent of what they read, 20 percent of what they hear, 30 percent of what they see and 50 percent of what they hear and see. Because different people have different learning styles, allowing student to receive information using more than one of the senses increases recall greatly.

While few organizations find ELearning courses cheaper to develop than traditional methods, many find them cheaper to deliver once they are built . Once an ELearning course has been built, it can be reused day in, day out and can be used to reach a potentially unlimited audience without the costs associated with more traditional methods of learning for example, there is no need to pay an instructor, rent out a room, pay for lunch for the students or pay any travel costs involved in running a course.

A Student can choose the most convenient time and place in which to learn, and can also work at his/her own pace. For an organization, this can mean reduced cost of training, as the student does not have to take time off of work to attend training and there are no hotel / food / travel costs involved. For the student, this can mean more convenience. ELearning is always available, and can be fit around a students family and working commitments. Many students also tend to feel less intimidated by ELearning than they do by having to face other students in a classroom atmosphere, and compare their own progress to that of others in the classroom who may be of a different competency level, age, race or gender.

ELearning courses can be kept up to date much more easily (and more cheaply) than traditional paper-based courses. Only one copy of the course needs to be updated course binders, books, and other materials do not have to be re-printed each time there is an update – and ELearning can thus much more easily and cheaply include relevant information from the students everyday life, from the latest news events or developments within an industry or academic field. This can make the courses more relevant, timely and more interesting to the student.

An ELearning program can help companies successfully train people in specific skills for specific performances (Study-Center.com offers ELearning in specialist skills to the Electricity industry as well as general courses in subjects like Telephone skills) while providing increased access to information tools for decision-making and general skills that effect overall employee performance.

Very importantly, ELearning is widely available to all, often extremely cheaply (sometimes even free!). With increasing numbers of people having direct access to the web (72% of employees now have access to a computer with internet access as part of their jobs ), a wide number of courses on a wide number of subjects is available, making it possible for people in remote locations and people with disabilities to participate in ELearning much more easily.

For the organization that developed a good quality ELearning course in the first place, it means extra income from that course, as well as the reputation for providing good quality ELearning content outside of the organization. For the purchaser of such ELearning content, it provides a cheaper way to develop ELearning content. And for the LMS host (in this case, Blackboard.com) it makes their LMS system more appealing to those who wish to use an LMS as they know they can choose from a wealth of ELearning content that has already been developed.

2.How can you ensure that good ELearning succeeds?

In order to ensure that good ELearning succeeds, it is firstly important to select one LMS that your organization will standardize upon and work only with that. It is very costly to support many different products, and it is far easier to provide technical support if only one tool is used organization-wide. It is also easier for students and tutors to use a single product so that the tool itself does not obstruct the learning process.

It is important to help students to feel comfortable with the ELearning system early on. Where possible, it is good to have very good help / support facilities or, ideally, live online helpers to interact with students – to help them to get started so that they do not grow frustrated at the system or find that they are not able to use it. Drop out rates are at their highest within the first use of an ELearning system, so try to ensure that your students have a good experience the first time!

Live online interaction with other students and/or tutors at pre-appointed times tends to increase retention rates also. This can take the form of online classrooms, in which the tutor reviews material for that week/module with the students, or caf type chatrooms in which students can chat informally about course subjects etc.

Having an online classroom or webinar to attend each week/month can provide the incentive for students to go online more often, especially if those sessions improve the students chances of passing tests, exams or coursework, and if the students can ask questions in a question/answer session while online. Incentive to attend such events increases if the coursework, tests or exams are mandatory in order to pass the course.

Any online events should be timed to be convenient to the maximum number of students in order to be effective students have lives offline and may live within different timezones so it is important to make the course flexible enough to accommodate for the fact that students may also have work commitments, children or even be taking other ELearning courses. Transcripts of online sessions can allow students who missed the sessions to catch up on anything they missed and in some cases it is possible to rerun the online session at different times for different timezones or provide access to a recording of a webinar that can be re-run at any time.

Lisa Currin, in her special to ELearn magazine entitled Feeling Groovy , says that Elearning must elicit positive emotions in order to succeed. While this is true, any good psychologist knows that it is easier to motivate human beings to avoid pain than it is to motivate them simply by giving them pleasure !

Thus, to make ELearning succeed beyond your wildest dreams, students or employees must see that they will suffer pain if they do not participate. There are many ways to motivate people to take ELearning courses in this manner making it a pre-requisite for promotion (the employee knows he will fail to get promoted if he does not take the course) is an effective one, or for graduation/certification (the student knows they will fail to get their degree/certification if they do not take the course, and will suffer the inability to get a good job, or simply suffer embarrassment as a result) is another.

However, there are some courses which are not required in this way, and a good way to motivate students to take such courses is to show them that if they do not they will suffer public humiliation! Publicising results of ELearning courses and ranking participants publicly against one another is a very effective means of encouraging people to take ELearning courses For example, for an employee at Coca Cola, knowing that employees at PepsiCo were scoring far higher on average in Sales/Marketing courses, would be a good incentive to the Coca Cola employee to increase his/her score! Also, Coca Colas HR department would encourage staff to take the courses and to do well in them also.

Brainbench.com is one ELearning provider that has benefited greatly from the idea of ranking ELearners. IT ELearners purportedly have large egos, so Brainbenchs facility that enables them to compare their own scores in certification tests with those of others in the same city, state or country as themselves means that instead of simply taking certification tests until they pass, Brainbenchers are instead repeatedly taking the same certification tests in the hope that they can improve on their previous score(s) and push themselves higher in the ranking.

Another way in which Brainbench encourages huge numbers of people to take its ELearning courses and certification tests is by getting students hooked by offering some courses and certification tests for free. This is a loss leader approach that has been employed by a number of successful ELearning organizations SmartCertify, LearnKeyDirect, Certy.com but is especially appropriate in IT ELearning.

3.How can you ensure it is good ELearning?

There are a number of different types of ELearning. It is important to use the most appropriate type of ELearning for the skill/subject area concerned.

Simulations are a good way of teaching students how to carry out a business process or a technical process or to develop a skill for a number of reasons perhaps because the real life situation is not an appropriate learning environment, or because it takes a great deal of practice to perfect a required skill.

For example, airline pilots are trained on simulators to ensure that mistakes made during training do not lead to plane crashes and the deaths of passengers.

Interactive learning is a great way to teach language skills.

For example, a number of audio-visual interactive language courses now provide the student with feedback of how closely the students pronunciation matches correct pronunciation of words by displaying their voice patterns mapped against the correct voice patterns.

Live online training, webinars or online events (though costly) may be appropriate where specialist participants are dispersed over a wide geographic area and they all need to see the same specialist instructor/presentation/seminar to get the latest research or thought on a particular subject area.

For example, NetRoadshow , Webex and Gartner employ live online training/seminars/webinars for a wide variety of specialist subjects.

Virtual classrooms are a great way to make a course and its instructor available to a great number of students dispersed over a wide geographic area, and still allow students to interact with the instructor, discuss coursework and so on.

For example, virtual classrooms are used by those who use the LMS at Blackboard.com as a means to teach subjects as wide in range as Wicca 101 through to American Literature and Molecular Biology through to AstroPhysics.

4.How to show that it is succeeding?

So, once you have good ELearning that is succeeding, how do you show that to management?

Of course, the simplest way to show that ELearning is improving knowledge and skill-level within the organization is through providing students with a quizzes, a pre-test and a post-test for each ELearning module (such as the pre-test below from Apogee Interactives Fundamentals of Electricity course in Study-Center.com) and reporting on improvements.

All good ELearning systems such as Blackboard, WebCT and TheLearningManager offer management and reporting facilities that allow flexibility of reporting such improvements.

ELearning audits and surveys can be used to report where the organization was before an ELearning course was implemented, how training was rated then, and comparing that to where the organization is after it is implemented and how training/skills/knowledge/job satisfaction are rated afterwards.

However, the most important part of measuring ELearning Return On Investment is to develop meaningful measurements that are directly linked to strategic business drivers, so that management can see that ELearning leads to dramatic improvements that affect the bottom line.

For example, show the success of an Effective Sales Meetings course by comparing sales before the course went live with sales after the course went live.

Compare software development times, and bug/defect rates before and after an Effective Software Development course went live.

Show the success of a Health and Safety course by comparing accident/injury rates prior to the course going live with those after the course went live.

And, most importantly, compare the costs of running traditional paper-based, location-based courses to the cost of running the ELearning replacement course.

5. How do you promote ELearning in Your Organization?

It is important to make ELearning inspirational make students feel that they can make a big difference to their own future and that of the organization by embarking on ELearning.

Everyone knows that a great way to motivate people to take ELearning is to tie it in to their salary and promotion such that it is not possible to rise to the next level of seniority in the company without having taken certain ELearning courses. A way of taking this further is to publish job roles which list the ELearning courses and pass marks required in order to be considered for that particular role within an organization.

Another extra incentive is to provide a certificate (or an ECertificate/EResume a URL which an employer could visit to see that the student is certified) to certify that the student has passed the course, providing the date, score and pass mark.

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About the Author

Michelle Johnston is an Ebusiness expert. She is currently Ebusiness Director of Apogee Interactive Inc. in Atlanta USA.

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