E-learning can deliver rapid time-to-market of new knowledge and skills and can be a key to successful, quick response to new realities. However, existing e-learning development business models have proven to be time-consuming.
Several rationales are given as reasons for this lag. Many argue that e-learning development processes are not efficient, well-defined or optimized. Others argue that e-learning courseware development is a function of art, creativity and science, and that therefore, it is not easy or desirable to standardize methods and processes. In addition, Elliott Masie has suggested that subject-matter experts (SMEs) are the biggest drag on development of e-learning.
We must take a hard look at current e-learning development models and identify areas for business process improvement. Efficiency improvements can be achieved if efforts are made to:
- Standardize development processes.
- Standardize approaches, including tools and templates.
- Define development approaches that satisfy different needs (i.e., virtual classroom, low-versus high-interaction).
- Reduce the number of development vendors.
- Leverage professional project management methods and tools.
- Assign SMEs who are committed, and communicate deliverable expectations.
- Use the right blend of onshore and offshore e-learning development resources.
Companies also can improve the productivity of e-learning development by using rapid e-learning development tools. According to Bersin & Associates, the worldwide market for e-learning tools will grow from $235 million in 2002 to $816 million in 2006. The sub-market for rapid e-learning development tools is forecast to grow from approximately $65 million today to $410 million by the end of 2006.
Rapid e-learning tools provide a template-driven e-learning development model that reduces development time from a few months to a few weeks or even days. Productivity gains can be achieved because programming time is eliminated. Although vendors suggest that anybody can use these rapid-development tools, learning functions need to continue to engage professional instructional designers. It is necessary to ensure that proven methodologies are employed when developing learning.
Can rapid-development tools solve the SME time lag? Through the use of efficient data-collection tools, the proper training of instructional technologists as analysts and the establishment of the appropriate rapport between the instructional technologist and the SME, the essential information can be collected in an efficient manner.
Although there is an important market for this segment of e-learning courseware, learning leaders still must be explicit about the application of this approach. At the beginning of this century, early experiences with the page-turner type of learning gave the e-learning industry a bad name. Learners became disappointed in the quality of e-learning as classroom programs were disbanded and replaced by “PowerPoint empowered by Flash,” with a limited added value. Since then, the market of e-learning solutions has developed from e-reading courseware to embrace the higher end of e-learning applications that includes game- and simulation-based e-learning.
Rapid e-learning development tools are particularly powerful for infusing organizations with small learning objects. Do not think in terms of traditional “e-learning courses,” which take at least an hour for completion. Rather, think in terms of short-burst access to knowledge that can support people’s daily need for current information. Think of the traditional learning “course” as a novel, and sharable content objects as a series of 30-second commercials.
Finally, e-learning development is not just a fun activity or a hobby for colleagues in learning—this is a professional business with drivers to enhance quality and productivity to support business goals. Therefore, it is important for learning executives to explore ways to optimize their e-learning development business model and include “rapid development tools” as part of the development tool mix. At the same time, we need to take care that we continue to strive to enhance the educational experience through high-quality e-learning design.
Nick van Dam is Deloitte’s global chief learning officer and learning consultant in the Human Capital Practice. He is the founder of E-Learning for Kids (www.e-learning forkids.org) and author of “The E-Learning Fieldbook” (McGraw-Hill, 2004). For more information, e-mail Nick at email@example.com.