In its various forms, e-learning has been hailed both as learningʼs greatest and worst advance. As The Top 10 Benefits of E-learning article says, this debate rests upon the quality of the learning materials and their suitability to the learning challenge theyʼre intended to meet.
Here are ten things you need to take into consideration in deciding any e-learningʼs suitability and quality:
- Quality criteria
Quality criteria for effective e-learning materials include that they:
- Achieve the (measurable) learning objectives
- Meet learnersʼ needs
- Involve activity on the part of the learner
- Obey appropriate instructional design principles
- Are ‘granularʼ
- Are easily understandable by learners
- Allow benchmarking
- Are auditable
Each learning delivery medium has seven key characteristics. Each of these characteristics has its ‘quality criteriaʼ that affect that delivery technologyʼs efficiency and effectiveness:
- Mode: the mediumʼs applicability to individual learners, one-to-one teaching, group learning, cross-cultural audiences, audiences whoʼre widely dispersed geographically, audiences with varying levels of IT skills and so on.
- Source: how the medium is resourced — through tailor-made or generic e-learning materials, delivered via an ‘ownedʼ or hosted learning management system (LMS), using proprietary servers or the Cloud, or accessed informally via publicly-accessed sources, such as Google and/or YouTube.
- Channel: the way the learning is delivered, such as face-to-face, or online, individually or via a group/ cohort of learners, and so on.
- Realism: does the delivery medium, as well as the learning content and its treatment, accurately reflect ‘real worldʼ tasks and situations?
- Interactivity: the level of interactivity within the learning materials.
- Media richness.
- Synchronicity of the learning delivery.
- Quality Issues and Standards
In determining quality and quality standards for online learning materials where learners are concerned, there are five key areas: cultural appeal; response time; interaction level; degree of engagement, and accessibility.
- The Learningʼs Purpose
Thinking about the e-learning materialsʼ purpose, as an e-learning developer you must know (a) what you need to do, (b) whether you have appropriate tools with which to achieve this, (c) what youʼre trying to achieve via the learning materials, and (d) why youʼre trying it do it like this. The answers will be couched in terms of modularity, accessibility, usability and quality.
- Is ‘Best Practiceʼ synonymous with ‘Qualityʼ?
We applaud — and want to adopt — ‘best practiceʼ but what is it? What does ‘bestʼ (compared with what?) mean? How do you know when youʼve got it? How do you generate best practice and what do you do with it once you have it? If this ‘best practiceʼ becomes widespread — even ‘standardʼ – it ceases to be ‘best practiceʼ. So how do you ensure you stay at the forefront of best practice?
In online learning technology, is ‘best practiceʼ about how you present learning content to learners? Is it about how online learning meets the needs of an organisation and/or its workers? Is it about making ‘savingsʼ? Is it about the quality of the learning experience for the learners? Is it about how quickly learners learn and apply what they need to learn? Or is it about something else entirely?
- Evaluationʼs Quality Indicators
Evaluation is the purposeful gathering, analysis and discussion of evidence from relevant sources about the quality, worth and impact of the learning. So, thereʼs always an element of subjectivity involved in the evaluation process.
Evaluation has an impact on practice and is entirely dependent on timing. Itʼs either summative (where judgement comes at the end of the exercise) or formative (where judgement comes before or during the exercise). Evaluation involves three quality indicators:
- Enabling – dimensions which need to be established, such as policies, protocols, space, time, people and resources.
- Process – aspects of action, ways of doing things, styles, behaviours and practices.
- Outcome – goals, products, numbers, impact, changes and new practices.
- Learner Expectations
Learning materialsʼ commissioners and developers can strive for ever-richer visual, auditory and — notably in the fields of virtual and augmented reality – even haptic interfaces along with the highest levels of interactivity. Whatʼs produced may be impressive but can it always be justified in terms of the value it adds to an online learning program? Will people be persuaded to learn only if theyʼre entertained? How far is high quality technical wizardry merely a hook — or how does it make the message more memorable, understandable, integrated and accessible?
Entertainment isnʼt learning materialsʼ key goal but, if the learning materialsʼ designer can achieve a well-balanced, well-constructed, and entertaining learning environment, it has potential to positively influence learnersʼ emotions and motivation.
- Quality, Time and Cost
Producing e-learning materials — like any project — involves managing three factors: cost, time and quality. If you alter one of these variables, you alter the others too. Thus, increasing quality will lead to increases in time and cost.
Among the six things that can go wrong with a project is a mismatch between the productʼs final and its budgeted quality. Here, the key is to keep the learning materials ‘fit for purposeʼ.
In addition, there are three further variables in an e-learning project — representing the ‘human elementʼ: the subject matter experts involved in the project, the commissioning client team and the project development team.
- Quality Control
Itʼs impossible to control quality in all deliverables in an e-learning project unless:
- You pre-define the deliverables,
- Quality standards exist for all the generic elements of the project,
- Quality expectations are established for all the projectʼs unique elements,
- Quality review procedures are in place and
- Quality reviews are held regularly.
- Commissioning Errors
E-learning developers may be tempted to accept commissions to build high-quality e-learning materials even if they know that the result wonʼt lead to effective learning and performance improvements. The result compounds the (erroneous but justifiable) view that e-learning ‘doesnʼt workʼ.
- Focus on Quality — not Cost
Donʼt opt for online learning if youʼre only interested in reducing the costs of learning. The only justification on quality grounds for using online learning is to deliver greater benefits for the organisation via the learnersʼ subsequent performance.
The quality of e-learning content is key since this content is the change agent within your organisation. So, your organisationʼs future performance, competitive edge and success depends on it.
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