Term Paper: Building and Managing and E-Learning

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[. . .] Key Trends in Training

In the past, researchers have debated whether or not e-learning is more effective than traditional classroom methods (Lamont, 2001). This debate has subsided in recent years and the majority of experts agree that a mix of e-learning and traditional training methods is often more beneficial, depending on which skills are being taught.

For example, team building and customer service are best taught in a classroom setting, while information technology can be best accomplished through e-learning strategies. Significant research has identified several key trends in the e-learning industry.

Research shows that on-the-job training broken down into smaller segments is more effective than intensive training completed in a matter of days or weeks (Lamont, 2001). For this reason, e-learning is the preferred training method for many organizations, because it is simply too expensive to bring students into a classroom for less than a half-hour per day.

One strategy for delivering short modules is "downtime training"(Lamont, 2001) in manufacturing, when the production line stops. E-learning permits delivery of individualized training focused on filling competency gaps.

Another key trend in the e-learning infrastructure is the development of custom training by content experts in business units, as opposed to development by a corporate training department. New e-learning authoring tools include instructional design principles that make it easy for content experts to prepare effective training.

As e-learning grows in organization, including both businesses and schools, the distinctions between training and performance support, between formal and informal learning, are becoming more and more blurred. A wider view of "knowledge transfer" is becoming dominant (Lamont, 2001).

Rather than incorporating training into the first few weeks of a new employee's position, learning is encouraged at all stages of the employee's career. For this reason, many e-learning tools, including collaboration software, play a strong role in both e-learning and knowledge management, and are providing an infrastructure where both methods can meet.

Preparing for an E-Learning Infrastructure

E-learning has evolved the process of corporate education and training. Delphi Group, a market research firm in Boston, describes e-learning as "integrated throughout the value chain, involving suppliers, partners, customers, and knowledge management systems. (Frye, 2002)"

There are four major components involved in implementing an e-learning infrastructure. The first phase is technology assessment, which consists of design, development, and deployment. The second is organizational, which involves figuring out how an organization will support an e-learning solution.

The third component is change management, which involves analyzing what the workforce already knows about e-learning and how the organization can prepare its students for e-learning. Finally, organizations must look at content, determining what type of content is needed and how it will be obtained and incorporated.

After developing an e-learning strategy, software tools are needed to implement and manage the e-learning solution. The list of possible tools is extensive, including authoring and content management; infrastructure; virtual classrooms; collaboration tools; knowledge bases; and much more.

Organizations must carefully evaluate these tools to determine which ones will best suit their needs. In many cases, organizations may also choose to use a hosted solution to implement an e-learning solution, especially if its IT department does not have the time and/or resources to do so.

Innovations in Distance Education (IDE, 2000) identifies seven main in choosing media and e-learning educational tools.

The selection and use of e-learning media and tools should be based primarily on the ability to support the instructional goals and objectives of the learning program.

The selection of instructional media and tools must reflect their accessibility by learners. An e-learning program should include a technology base that can be used by the widest range of students within that program's target group.

Users of a distance learning system should be prepared and supported in order to maximize the capabilities of e-learning media and tools.

Adult learners bring varied social and cultural backgrounds and diverse experiences to an e-learning program. The unique circumstances in which learners live and work can influence the way they think about and use e-learning media and tools.

A wide range of technologies, including electronic devices, may be used to deliver content, support interactions, and provide student access to instructional and administrative resources in an e-learning infrastructure.

When the instructional design model is dependent on some component of electronic technology for delivery, contingency strategies must be considered that will enable a quick recovery from technology-related problems.

The most important factors in the design of distance education programs are those that create the organizational and administrative infrastructures to ensure that these programs can be efficiently and effectively developed, managed, and executed.

Building an Effective E-Learning Infrastructure

As e-learning increases in popularity, more and more organizations rely on building and managing e-learning infrastructures to build competencies and capabilities throughout the extended enterprise of employees, customers, partners, and suppliers (McGraw, 2001). For successful integration of e-learning, organizations need a comprehensive learning strategy that goes above and beyond the basic delivery of learning offerings. Some of the most successful organizations are those that incorporate infrastructure systems that support performance, content, and resource management.

According to McGraw (2001), the first step in developing a successful e-learning infrastructure is developing a blueprint, which determines the main elements of an organization's e-learning strategy. McGraw identifies the following as the most important goals of a successful e-learning initiative should reduce training costs over a long-term period; improve individual and business unit performance; help maintain core competencies; and enable the organization to react quickly to competitive pressures and market needs.

Basically, a successful e-learning strategy should motivate people, improve productivity, enable skill development, and aid retention across the enterprise (McGraw, 2001).

Infrastructure is the basic building block of e-learning. A successful e-learning infrastructure should "address an organization's existing culture, governing principles, processes, and structures that will contribute to e-learning success or failure" (McGraw, 2001).

Therefore, one of the most important elements of building an e-learning infrastructure is developing a common language and vision. Language and vision are the shared expectations and interpretation of concepts and operations. If an organization fails to incorporate a common language and vision, its e-learning initiative will be weakened.

Managing E-learning Solutions

Keeping track of e-learning solutions could be extremely time-consuming. However, there are a variety of e-learning tools that enable organizations to power, deliver, and track e-learning activity with little effort (Brodbent, 2002, pp. 101-103).

There are tools that provide complete student management and reporting, allowing organizations to create and distribute access rights, organize administrators and students into groups, and track their progress.

In addition, organizations can organize tailored instructor-led courses and events in catalogs along with the online courses; manage access rights and distribution; track registration; administer course-related resources; and create reports.

Many tools include areas for job roles, profiles, and career paths so that they can be easily tracked and tied into an organization's objectives. This is helpful in determining students' progress toward their personal goals.

Managing e-learning solutions can be easy with the new technology that is currently available, as it allows organizations to track students by their profiles, and deliver targeted course information, news, references, and more.

Conclusion

E-learning has proven itself to be just as rich and as valuable as the classroom experience or even more so. With its unique features, e-learning is an experience that leads to comprehension and mastery of new skills and knowledge, just like traditional methods of learning.

The advancement of the personal computer, the Internet and the electronic delivery of information have changed the world from a manufacturing, physical economy to an electronic, knowledge-based economy. The computer has brought the need learning to greater heights, and has provided a new tool for advanced learning. Technology has allowed vendors to create, enable, deliver and facilitate e-learning.

E-learning is the result of the Internet combined with the human quest for knowledge. E-learning is not simply taking a course, or completing a program online. It also offers students a total learning experience, from online written material and assignments, to online discussions, mentoring and interactive chat rooms.

E-learning has definite benefits over traditional classroom training, including the flexibility and the cost savings from not having to travel or spend excess time away from work. E-learning breaks the barriers of time, distance and space. It works with the individual, as well as with the group, and it puts students in control of their own learning. E-learning allows people to choose the learning experience that complements their individual learning style. However, implementing an e-learning solution can be challenging.

Many organizations experience setbacks, and even failure. To succeed, it is important to critically assess the ability of an organization to implement e-learning successfully. Organizations must address the weaknesses and strengths of its people, place and resources, as well as other factors in their individual situations.

References

Online] Available: http://www.outreach.psu.edu/DE/IDE/GP&P (2000). Innovations in Distance Education (IDE). Guiding Principles and Practices for the Design and Development of Effective Distance Education.

Broadbent, Brooke. (2002). ABCs of E-learning: Reaping the Benefits and Avoiding the Pitfalls. Philadelphia, PA: Jossey-Bass.

Frye, Colleen. (2002, February… [END OF PREVIEW]

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