Access tools ensure the availability of the organization’s learning resources. Access tools include synchronous and asynchronous (live and self-paced) content. Essentially organized in a repository, often called a knowledge or learning portal, access tools provide diverse audiences convenient access to courses, briefing sessions, white papers, webcasts, video-on-demand (VOD) and online tests.
Learning applications fall into four broad categories: business operations, content management, delivery management and learning management systems. The four categories help to delineate responsibilities and enable cross-functional collaboration and successful implementation.
Business operations applications include functions that help provide learners with adequate support, a high-quality experience and a secure environment for e-learning. Analysis of program viability, cost analysis, ROI analysis and gap analysis (skill and knowledge gaps) are also the domain of business operations.
A word about costs: Total cost is more than just the expense of development; it should include the cost maintenance of publishing (to the Web, to CD or to book) and of deployment (classroom or Web). The hard part is finding significant metrics, such as customer satisfaction, revenue increases related to training efforts or reduced time to learn and apply new skills, adopt a new technology or achieve proficiency in a new process. Until training analysis includes the impact on business issues, training and learning cannot be anything more than a tactical requirement of business activity.
As course offerings increase in number, creating content that is deliverable in increments as learning objects will begin to make more sense. We are all hoping for learning to be woven into the fabric of our daily work. Learning is most effective when we need the answer, the tool or whatever. If it is available in short, easy-to-find chunks, it will get more use, be more effective and have greater impact.
Content management makes the development process convenient, consistent and coherent for developers and learners. Ensuring a common course-authoring structure requires common outputs and a common meta-tagging vocabulary across all content creators.
Once content is created and ready to publish, the delivery management function determines what gets delivered to whom, where, when and how. When content is requested, dynamic delivery uses the learner’s profile and preference to identify and deliver matching content.
Learning management systems (LMS) are the backbone of the user experience as well as the underlying systems that manage training transactions, such as registration, navigation, selection of offering and validation. These services help track the learners’ personalized planning.
The quality of content is unimportant if the network does not carry it to the learner efficiently and effectively. Based on the learning demand for volume of content and types of media at the access level, a robust network infrastructure is needed to meet the resulting bandwidth requirements. This is necessitated by what we have all learned over the past few years: Dynamic content is more effective than e-reading because e-reading often becomes e-sleeping.
The cost to deploy and deliver e-learning can be dramatically lower if it leverages existing network capacity. Extending the functionality or content types is also relatively inexpensive because you incrementally add capacity either through increased bandwidth or storage solutions to distribute e-learning content over your network. E-learning offers you an opportunity to optimize your existing network capacity and demonstrate a higher return on the current IT investment. Partnering with the IT teams will ensure a strong technical component to the business problem that you are solving with e-learning.
Tom Kelly is vice president of the Internet Learning Solutions Group at Cisco Systems Inc. Nader Nanjiani is marketing programs manager of the Internet Learning Solutions Group at Cisco. Contents of this article will also appear in “The Productivity Pyramid: A Cisco Approach to Internet Learning” from Cisco Press in 2004. For more information, e-mail Tom and Nader at email@example.com.
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