E-Learning is undoubtedly gaining a tremendous popularity in the training industry, especially workplace training. But in spite of the evident benefits, there is still a high degree of scepticism and concern being expressed by many learning professionals on the effectiveness of self-paced e-learning. In addition the ROI of technology-aided learning is also a concern, keeping in mind investments in technology and infrastructure. The main contention is the lack of empirical evidence for learning enhancement, as compared to overheads and associated costs. The only way to lessen scepticism is to provide adequate assurance of quality in e-learning and prove that it fulfills the training needs well.
This is the reason, why e-learning professionals have created frameworks that can be used to assess elements that contribute to the factors influencing effective learning outcomes. This includes mainly four elements within e-learning development.
1. The curriculum: A strong curriculum should be created for learners keeping in mind its relevance in the workplace. It should be updated and reflect best practices that would help learners perform better – within workplace and beyond.
2. The learning design: E-Learning developers have to create an effective learning environment that not only provides required information but also provides engagement that ensures effective learning
3. The Course Content: Content itself should be strong and relevant. It should provide required perspectives and should have conceptual strength to create knowledge.
4. The Delivery processes: Technology-aided learning can create a strong support system to sustain long-term learning by providing ample opportunities of communication and collaboration.
While the above is the framework that forms the quality of e-learning courses, there are various checks and measures that developers can take to ensure that the framework is strong and delivers effective e-learning.
1. Course Content: E-Learning content needs to be well thought-out, concise and consistent. It is a known fact that learners do not prefer to read too much when they learn in a self-paced manner. Therefore, e-learning should not be too complicated and there should be a constant effort to make difficult concepts easy to understand and detailed information laid out in smaller nuggets that are easier to consume. It is necessary to take extra efforts to make the learner feel confident with the course content and its ability to create value. Make sure that there are no typos, alignment and spacing of text is consistent as well as there is a consistent editorial style followed through the entire course content.
2. Visual Design: E-Learning developers should pay attention to the use of font, space, colour, graphics and multimedia. This puts the learner at ease and minimises cognitive overload. Images and graphics have always been a part of learning and e-learning is also no exception. More than just jazzing up the ‘look and feel’ aspect, images and graphics can enhance learning as a whole. A common view that including graphics in a learning module is a sure-shot way of relieving tedium and doing away with ‘white space’ is outdated. It is sometimes the norm for some e-learning courses to have minimalistic graphical elements. For others, however, it can build the very essence of learning and rise above being just a sidekick to content or textual matter.
3. Interactivity for engagement: Training’s can be monotonous, especially in the context of ‘pure’ technology-aided learning. Learners do not have the choice to discuss and thrash-out concepts with fellow learners or have heated debates. For e-learning developers, this poses to be a continuous challenge. Interactivities built within e-learning can effectively provide relief as well as challenge learners to think and apply assimilated learning. There are many types of interactivities that can be built in an e-course. From ‘fill-in-the-blanks’ and multiple-choice questions to ‘true or false’ and ‘match-the correct’, simple and straightforward interactivities encourage factual and conceptual learning for a variety of learners.
4. Logical Structure: The structure of the e-course should not be deterrent to learning. Navigation must be simple and consistent throughout the course. Content should be logically structured and made searchable so that learners can access it better.
5. Adequate technology support: There is a lot in terms of delivery of e-learning that one can employ. Considering the vast development in technology, sky is the limit! But e-learning delivery should be created intelligently keeping in mind the needs of the learners as well as available technology. For instance, for the sales force, it makes sense to create an e-learning course that is delivered via mobile devices and consists of short audio learning snippets that they can hear and learn anywhere. The same strategy cannot be adopted for a group of factory workers in a manufacturing set-up who need to learn about the working of complicated machinery. For them, a 3D enhanced graphics heavy course is more appropriate.
E-learning is an effective way of learning but it definitively has associated costs and makes many demands. It is important to be able to satisfy stakeholders and ensure that e-learning is providing the maximum possible return on investment and that further investment is warranted. With well demonstrated quality assurance, this can be very well achieved.