Building and Managing and E-Learning Infrastructure
E-learning involves training by means of advanced technologies, such as the Internet, Intranet, Extranet, satellite broadcast, audio/video tape, CD-ROM and more (Broadbent, 2002, p. 39). The term e-learning is an umbrella that describes a range of learning situations, including distance learning, web-based learning, virtual classrooms and more. All of these forms use communication technologies as a medium for learning.
This paper identifies and analyzes the main concepts, ideas, and strategies involved in building and managing e-learning structures. When exploring e-learning as a solution to help guide an organization's overall vision, values, mission and objectives, companies and schools must employ an e-learning strategy.
According to Von Schlag (2001), integrating e-learning into an organization is an excellent way to prepare the organization for change. It can allow employees to share and publish their knowledge and skills to improve the entire team.
In addition, it can enable businesses to combine best-of-breed training into an integrated learning solution that is ultimately less expensive and more accessible than most other forms of training. If e-learning is incorporated properly, Von Schlag (2001) says, "it can even help with skills transfer and retention of skills in the workplace."
Building and managing an e-learning infrastructure can be extremely effective and efficient, or it can be costly and ineffective. Successfully building and managing an effective e-learning strategy involves identifying and analyzing the strategic issues that make for positive impact in an academic or work setting. Having a strategic vision and plan for e-learning simplifies the implementation process provides a detailed action plan for those who will be implementing the e-learning plan.
The Basics of E-Learning
The concept of e-learning has been around for decades, although only recent has it taken the spotlight (Broadbent, 2002, p. 42). E-learning is basically described as training that is executed through a network, usually over the Internet or a company intranet. In recent years, e-learning has evolved into an increasingly popular tool that is used in both the business and academic worlds.
Courses online, interaction with fellow students and instructors, and access to research libraries are just some of the capabilities that are emerging (Rosenberg, 2002, p. 39)."
E-learning has a variety of uses. Companies can use e-learning solutions to train new employees to use their software or learn about their products. In the new era of globalization, companies need not worry about distance barriers, as employees around the world can use e-learning solutions. Universities are also using e-learning solutions that enable students to take classes from home on a variety of subjects. In many academic institutions today, students are earning their degrees online.
There are four basic categories of e-learning (Broadbent, 2002, pp. 45-49): knowledge databases, online support, synchronous training and asynchronous training.
Synchronous e-learning imitates a classroom, meaning that classes are conducted in real-time and instructors and students are connected through streaming audio or video or through chat rooms.
While not always seen as actual training, knowledge databases are the most basic form of e-learning. Knowledge databases are typically seen on software sites offering indexed explanations and guidance for software questions, as well as step-by-step instructions for performing specific tasks. Knowledge databases are moderately interactive, meaning that they allow the user to search the database, or select an option from a list.
Online support is an e-learning that functions in a similar manner to knowledge databases. Online support can teach students through forums, chat rooms, online bulletin boards, e-mail, or live instant-messaging support. It is more interactive than knowledge databases, as it presents the opportunity for more specific questions and answers, and often gives immediate answers.
Asynchronous e-learning allows students to access prepackaged training at any time, enabling students to participate in the program at his or her own pace and communicate with the instructor via e-mail. Many e-learning packages run over a company's internal servers. Others use an application service provider model, which takes care of everything from creating a training course to storing the information.
E-Learning Magazine (Shea-Schultz, Fogarty, 2003) studied the methods and technologies of organizations and people who have enjoyed great success in implementing e-learning strategies. As a result, it developed seven core strategies to successfully implement e-learning infrastructures. These strategies are as follows:
Cater to the learner. An organization's success depends on the learner actually using the learning and improving from it.
Achieve buy-in. Organizations must present the business case for e-learning to executive leadership and win their commitment.
Save time and money. Organizations should take advantage of the built-in time and money savings offered by e-learning.
Tame the technology. An organization's staff, trainers, and learners must be comfortable with the technology and understand how to use it.
Orchestrate the three sides of design. An organization must take into account the learning, aesthetic, and technological design factors of each e-learning module, course or curriculum. These three factors must work together in harmony for attractive and effective online learning.
Think globally, learn locally. As globalization increases, different languages, cultures and customs must be considered in developing e-learning solutions.
Partner with purpose and passion. Organizations should partner with outside vendors strategically, intelligently and with commitment.
Strategies for E-Learning
E-Learning has enormous potential to reshape the way organizations provide training (Horton, 2001, p. 22). For companies, this can be cost-effective and improve a company's ability to remain competitive. For educational institutions, this can provide education to more students. However, implementing e-learning solutions can be challenging and organizations must consider several key issues before getting started.
First, organizations should evaluate the type of content desired (p. 24). For example, if e-learning solutions will be used to train salespeople or teach basic technical skills, such as Microsoft Office, a standard off-the-shelf online course may be best.
However, if the training will teach a company's specific business processes or system applications, a specially designed course may be necessary. When building a tailored course, companies have the advantage of incorporating a company or industry-specific focus into the course.
An organization will also need to determine what type of online course it wants (p. 29). Many courses can be delivered online, but self-discipline by students and a tracking system is needed to makes sure that students complete the entire training program. Organizations must consider the purpose of their course, and how this purpose will be reflected in the design of the e-learning solution.
Organizations must also determine whether or not they have the resources and time to create their own courses (p. 33). This can be a challenging task and there are many factors involved. For instance, content from classroom training is not readily transferable to online delivery.
Online training must be more interactive and allow for specific content based on the skill level of each student. These things must be considered when deciding whether or not to outsource the e-learning project.
E-learning solutions can be CD-ROM-based, Network-based, Intranet-based or Internet-based (Broadbent, 2002, p. 46). They can include text, video, audio, animation and virtual environments. Organizations must determine which method is more suitable for their users. They must also make sure that the e-learning solutions provides an efficient way to track which students are taking which courses and measure their success.
The Advantages of E-Learning Infrastructure
While e-learning is highly publicized for its ability to save time and money, as well as provide constant access, there are many other advantages to e-learning structures. Organizations that that use e-learning in their training strategy understand that e-learning enables them to go above and beyond traditional classroom training.
E-learning infrastructures have the ability to integrate into enterprise business processes and provide increased control over intellectual capital. Companies that incorporate e-learning can mechanize training delivery and utilize customized training. In today's society, e-learning software enables businesses to quickly and seamlessly incorporate new knowledge into e-learning modules.
E-learning cuts travel expenses, reduces the time it takes to train people, and eliminates or significantly reduces the need for a classroom/instructor infrastructure (Rosenberg, 2001, p. 46)."
E-learning provides an open door for educational and career opportunities, which can lead to advancement and promotions. E-learners in remote locations can now enjoy the same educational opportunities as on-site students. Self-motivated students can advance at their own levels and access courses at their own pace.
E-learning can also play a role in assessing and improving an employee's strengths and weaknesses. Individual e-learning sessions involve intense and focused concentration. As a result, students can work at their own pace and focus on improving their skills.
E-learning provides the advantage of consistent training across an organization. While different classroom instructors may have different approaches, skills and experience involved in teaching particular topic, e-learning solutions are consistent in approach, content, delivery.
Research indicates that student understanding and retention improves when students learn through real experience. Technologies such as collaboration, interactivity, modeling, simulations, virtual reality interfaces, and gaming are all extremely beneficial in giving students the opportunity to experience skills through e-learning.
In today's market, technologies allow e-learning solutions to simulate real-time conversations with the latest techniques, including instant messaging, chat rooms, shared…