The Truth in E-learning

What is e-learning? According to Cari Mathwig, interactive team leader and Instructional Designer at The AVS Group, "Maybe the question should be, 'What is not e-learning?'" According to the American Society for Training and Development (ASTD), "e-learning is a wide set of applications and processes used for the purpose of learning," including those that are Web- and computer- based, virtual classrooms, NetMeetings, satellite or fiber-optic-connected classrooms, e-mail, bulletin boards, or chat rooms. The delivery mediums may be the Internet, Intranet or Extranet (LAN/WAN), audio and videotape, satellite broadcast, interactive TV, or CD-ROM. In a time when computers and classrooms are merging, e-learning has quickly gone from buzzword to a regular part of the vocabulary in the business world. The key now is to know how to use it. To use e-learning effectively, you need to ask yourself the following questions. The answers to those questions will determine how e-learning can best fit your needs. Question #1: What is the goal? "You can't do anything without a goal or objective," notes Mathwig. "The goal determines everything, including the topic, the information presented, how the information is presented, and if participants are accountable for learning the information." "Many people do this backwards by starting the process with the information that is to be presented," Mathwig adds, "but a goal still needs to be determined in order to establish the rationale for presenting the information." Question #2: Who is the audience? The medium used should meet the needs of the audience to better accomplish the goal. Some questions that one should ask about the audience include: 1. Where is the audience located? 2. Are they spread out or in one location? 3. What technologies does the audience have available to them? 4. What is the audience's level of technical expertise? Question #3: What resources are available? Resources include time, talent, and budget. This will also determine which medium is used. For example, if there are two days to prepare, you need to consider what can be done in two days to accomplish the goal. Available resources can be a big factor in how sophisticated the e-learning can be. The more sophisticated the e-learning--applications that include animated demonstrations, simulations that allow participants to practice what they have learned, or assessment and learning management--the higher the costs. "The return on investment from a well-planned and well-developed e-learning program is high and well worth considering," Mathwig adds. "In any case, the capabilities of the delivery medium versus the goals must be assessed." So, which medium is best for e-learning? "Any electronic medium has its own advantages and disadvantages and should be used based upon its effectiveness, costs (in terms of both time and money), and ultimately the return on investment," says Mathwig.