Top Ten List: Things to Consider When Thinking About Starting an eLearning Program

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1. What is the purpose or mission of starting an eLearning program at your organization? In other words: what are you trying to accomplish?

Determining your need for starting an eLearning program is important as you need to know what educational gap you are trying to fill. Research and evaluations can be a good indicator that there’s a need for a new eLearning program

2.  Who will be responsible for the management of the overall project budget and how will your budget be determined?

Understanding the budget is imperative for starting your online learning planning process as you need to know what you’re working with in terms of dollars and staffing.

3. Do you have a plan in place to evaluate both the educational gap you are looking to fill and also the success of your program?

There are a plethora of electronic survey tools out there such as SurveyMonkey that are easy to use and allow you to quickly gather data. Many eLearning systems even have build-in pre and post-course evaluations to collect information to determine knowledge learned.

4. Do you have IT infrastructure in place to support things such as student access (e.g. registration)?

A course could be amazing, but if there’s no way for the learner to access it then it’s pretty pointless. Planning for access, for example, perhaps with your organization’s database can be tricky and needs to be planned for well in advance.

5. How will you ensure your course is designed so that it is pedagogically appropriate for online learning?

Not all content is “eLearning worthy” nor is it “eLearning ready”—meaning  something that worked well in a brick and mortar establishment many not work for eLearning.

6. Do you have a eLearning support plan for course content?

A poorly supported course will overshadow the best of the best content hands down! Don’t ruin your eLearning program failing to properly support the course content inquiries as well as technological issues.

7. Do you have an eLearning interface/platform/technology design plan?

Planning for what is the best interface and platform to deliver your eLearning program are important to consider and looking at your audience is critical. In most cases making your program easy to use/navigate will produce a positive learning experience.

8. Do you have a plan for designing a program that is easy to use and appealing for the adult learner?

This ties in to number 7, but it is more so related to the content itself—making a course that utilizes a variety of media such as videos, forums,  and on-demand lectures  are all examples.

9. Do you have a plan to market your eLearning program to achieve the usage results and reach the audience you desire?

Working with a marketing team to develop the promotional content is a good way to ensure that they are in alignment and that you are getting learners to your program that are getting what they expected.

10. How will the eLearning program be protected?

Considering copy-writing your eLearning program or minimally using Creative Commons to provide some protection  to your program are all good ways to ensure that your hard work is not for nothing.

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Are We Being Left to the Wolves? A Closer Look at Online Support

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I recently read Professor Mary Thorpe’s article from 2002 on Rethinking Learner Support: the challenge of collaborative online learning. Thorpe is the former Director of the Institute of Educational Technology at The Open University. The Open University was incepted in the 1960’s and provided university level distance education that didn’t require prerequisites for attendance. This all sounds great in theory, but it also presents a need to support students at all levels for both course content and technological needs (Thorpe 110). Thorpe discusses providing personalized support and I completely agree that understanding the specific needs of the person you’re supporting are crucial in producing a positive support experience.

In adult education I have experienced first-hand that the support can be an afterthought by senior management and that getting the program launched so it can produce ROI is paramount. The problem with this is that a bad experience with elearning product support will cause hesitancy for the learner to look to this source for future education. The course materials may be top notch, but if the registration and technological support experience was poor it will can overshadow the course content.  Also, word spreads fast so if one had a bad experience they’ll have no problem telling their friends. Regardless if the other learners would require support that would also produce a support issue the bad experience is already in their mind.

In some ways I think that support for online interactions has gotten worse primarily at the corporate level. Many companies providing education on their products or services have faltered greatly in by providing sub-par services that have been sent off-shore. Additionally, many use FAQs and key word searches in order to try and avoid transitioning the user to the less then quality “live” support it will be providing. I think all online support, not just in academia, needs to re-evaluate support needs and put the end-user first. Can you remember a really bad support experience you had? I’m sure there’s at least one that you’ll never forget!

Thorpe, M. (2002). Rethinking Learner Support: the challenge of collaborative online learning

Methods for Funding eLearning at a Medical Nonprofit

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Funding for new technology can be a tricky to navigate. My organization currently uses combination of funding options to support technology and content development. One method we currently use is a decentralized approach. Our initial adoption costs of our Learning Management System were planned for within our budget capital budget (Bates 161). Our senior leadership team was forward thinking enough to understand that not only our salable products would utilize the LMS and therefore the funding was absorbed by the capital. Additional funds are budgeted by other departments to support the development and delivery of content through the system to meet their needs. I have great input as eLearning Manager as to how much money should be budgeted annually to account for increased usage per user (per seat license), known and unknown customizations, and upgrades, for example. The diversity in utilization of our LMS says volumes about how our senior leadership team allows eLearning staff with the autonomy to make decisions and lets their “experts” lead.

Another funding approach we have used is a strategic partnership with a pharmaceutical company. We partnered with this particular company in order to co-implement a 3 module eLearning course that educates nurses on stroke management. The company was developing the content with an outside eLearning developing vendor and our internal clinical nurses were reviewers on content. They funded the project with quite a large budget in order to co-brand the program with our organizations names, utilize our LMS, and to reach our 40,000 members. The partnership is excellent way for our organization to share costs (Bates 163). We have had final rights on approving content and active participation in all marketing of the course to ensure it complies with our mission and strategic plan. In some ways I could see that true academics may not view these types of partnerships as appropriate as it could be said they are “buying” access to our members. I disagree in many ways as it serves the purpose of providing education that our members would be getting elsewhere if it were not from us.

To close my blog this week, I’d like hear what you think: 

Bates, A.W. (2000.) Managing Technological Change