Prudens Information Resources for the Internet

e-Learning Requirements

A Prudens e-Report

The Components of e-Learning

It is useful to consider the components of producing, distributing and presenting e-learning to an online student. Traditional learning requires a facility, or classroom, and a teacher. A syllabus, lesson plans, books, and other materials support the course on each subject. Finally, there will be administrative support, plus a varying degree of technology to support students, teachers and administrators. The purpose of this report is to consider the requirements of e-learning so that traditional and online learning can be compared in a following report.

The requirements of e-learning may be grouped as follows:

These components of the e-Learning creative process are useful to assess firms and business models. Some types of companies and institutions have strong competencies in some of these areas. It also provides a rationale, based on strengths and weaknesses, for e-learning entities to form partnerships in order to provide e-learning to students.

Access to Original Content

The future of e-learning depends to a large extent on how effectively multimedia archives are used to create a better learning environment than what is currently available in the classroom. Many types of courses may become transformed by examples shown as photos, maps, audio, or video segments. This content, currently stored in the databases news organizations, encyclopedias, scientific and other organizations will become more valuable as the bandwidth constraints on users recede. Content that has not been digitized and is not accessible to potential users may require costly efforts to digitize it and make it accessible to the learning public.

The Technology, Education and Copyright Harmonization Act of 2001 expands the "fair use" exemption for copyrighted material allowing them to be used without infringement liability in instructional broadcasting, digital distance learning, or distance education. This puts E-Learning on the same level as the traditional classroom approach for the use of these materials. However since some e-learning efforts are meant to make a profit, permission for the use of the content must be granted.

The Development of Content into Courses

The most critical part of E-Learning is creating or making use of available content, in accordance with training objectives, or a curriculum design, to create an effective online course. Gone are the days of transferring classroom content to the web; the Internet is a new medium, and its strengths are beginning to be understood.

The development of course content or "courseware", involves following course objectives and requirements, curriculum design, module design and assembly strategies; establishing systems for content management; planning for bandwidth strategies, and the creative use of authoring systems, including formats / templates, and module design and assembly. It may even incorporate different approaches to learning that begin to allow for the "personalization" of online training.

The development of courses for organizational training implies a sense of strategy of what is important to the organization and, specifically, what its employees should know. It is here that link between training and knowledge management becomes obvious. There is also a link between the strategic planning of training and its management in that both are based on objectives formulated from an assessment of work processes and skills with the intent to improve the performance of the employee, group and organization. Both of these linkages are discussed in a following section.

The Provision of Courseware

Courses and modules, the product of the above step, are often called learning or training content, or simply "content". Some organizations produce learning content, as described above, and others aggregate courseware from others and make it available to other organizations. These are the learning providers, the "middle men" or distributors of online training materials.

There is an enormous volume of online training materials and many delivery options available to organizations seeking training. Certainly quality, such as the accuracy, relevance and timeliness of the materials, the effectiveness of their presentation, and their cost, are factors that should be taken into account when selecting a training program.

Potential to update the content is also important. Eventually, content that changes (e.g. economic data) may be automatically updated within the modules of an XML-based system, treating new content as objects to fill in XML generated formats, and to make the modules available "on the fly", as the need arises. However, for the current time, courseware needs to be updated or replaced periodically when its content is time-sensitive.

Akin to updating the content is adapting it to a particular organization. The client organization may also want some of its own materials included in the course. It is therefore very important for the learning provider to have a close working relationship with a course developer, or to internalize the course development process.

The Ownership of Courseware

The subject matter of learning is rarely owned, since it is essentially factual. What may be claimed as intellectual property is its presentation, or design. The fact that "2+2=4" can't be patented or subject to a copyright, but how it is presented to a young audience as edutainment can be protected.

Businesses that develop and produce courseware don't automatically own the content that is produced by employees and consultants, unless it is stipulated in a contract. Online content is owned by the designer unless he or she has signed a contract that relinquishes that right to another party, such as a client or employer. This assumes that the content is taught widely to others in classes and training sessions. If the content is unique in any way, such as the subject of a book with a unique perspective, then the author of the book must be considered as an owner. This would give the author a prior claim to the ownership of the courseware, above that of the designer.

Prior to online learning, it was agreed that instructors owned the content of their courses. Now some institutions claim to own the content, probably because it sees the material as a potential long-term revenue source. The ownership of online content is not the same at all institutions. First it depends on any agreement between the institution and the instructor, but may also depend on the policy of the institution.

Hosting Technology and Support

Even for organizations that develop training materials, or make them available to others, the requirements for hosting and supporting online training may be too technically complex and costly. Operation, security and maintenance of host server; user support with help line and training; technical support with email, discussion groups, collaboration tools, application sharing (white board), as well as other "surrounds"; linkages to group learning, knowledge management within the organization; implement bandwidth strategy are examples of hosting requirements.

In order to include "rich media" for training, requiring data speeds not always available on the Internet, some companies will place a server hosting learning materials in a company's Intranet. This will allow speeds of 100 Mbps to 1,000 Mbps, and will make digital video a common training tool. For example, delivery of a training session can be asynchronous, which allows each employee to watch the session whenever their schedule permits. This approach is used by Ninth House1, which present training in the format of interactive television.

Another approach is to provide synchronous transmission of training materials directly over the Internet. This is very similar to high bandwidth video conferencing where students have a chance to ask questions and see a variety of materials. The bandwidth requirements are high and may not be justified in every case, but if the session is saved to a video server, students in a lower bandwidth environment may view it asynchronously.

Access to Students

Large corporations, unions, trade associations, certifying bodies and government entities obviously have large numbers of potential students. In addition, strategies can be developed to reach many companies, for example through digital exchanges, or workers and would-be workers through high traffic sites. Success in reaching individual workers will depend if they have an option for outside reimbursable training, and whether the training provider is acceptable, or certified, by the company.

Learning Management

In addition to making the course and supporting materials available to the student, the learning management system (LMS) should enable interactions between faculty and students, and between students. Administrative tasks, assessment, mentoring and other functions of learning providers comprise a capability that is not available in every E-Learning company.

Although the intent is to automate many tasks routinely done by people in a traditional learning environment, an e-learning should have suffiecent help available when users phone or email with questions.

The Branding and Certification of Programs and Students

A distinguishing feature between learning organizations is their brand which is influenced by the recognition they receive from certifying organizations and success in training students. Acredited universities have an edge here in that they can award certificates and course credits that can usually be transferred to other venues of employment and education.

There are an increasing number of dubious E-Learning entities that have an impressive web site but lack accreditation and don't have a campus or corporate offices. They can now be checked out with The Distance Education and Training Council, recognized by the US Department of Education. The Council approved over 50 degree granting post-secondary distance learning programs through 2004.1

Dr. James E. Burke is a Principal in Burke Technology Services (BTS). BTS provides business assistance to startup technology companies, or organizations planning or integrating new technologies; develops and manages technology projects; performs technology evaluation and commercialization, and assists in technology-based economic development.

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