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RD3: Should I Create My Own Online Aviation Training Courses In-House?

September 8, 2021

Focus is the key to the success of any organization. The more focused the organization is, the higher the chances of success. Therefore, it is essential to minimize the daily tasks each team member is responsible for. This is only possible if the organization outsources the non-core functions and only puts all efforts on the core functions. Taking this approach not only increases efficiency, but also improves the quality of the work.

Outsourcing the Creation of Online Training Materials Will Save You Money Over Time

Outsourcing the non-core functions have a direct impact on the bottom line of the company. Let’s look at an example of an airline that went down the wrong path while trying to implement eLearning within their organization. 

While I was working for this airline as a pilot in the late 90s, management wisely decided to improve their training department. Our training material consisted of black and white manuals supplemented by slide trays that were projected on a screen. The slides would cover the material using graphics and audio with a beep at the end. When the beep sounded, the tray would advance automatically to the next slide. 

This training had to be done in the training center due to the audio-visual equipment requirements, so the airline was incurring a lot of extra costs associated with transportation, lodging, and meals. Since the goals of the program were to reduce cost and improve training, the airline decided to convert these slide shows into something more portable, using PowerPoint to achieve this goal.

PowerPoint Proved to Be a Poor Solution, Forcing the Airline to Start Over from Scratch

Microsoft made PowerPoint players free of charge, so the company’s reasoning was that developing the courses in PowerPoint would allow the training to be done from home. So, the company spent a lot of money converting the slide shows into PowerPoint presentations.

PowerPoint is a great tool for creating stand-alone presentations, but it’s not as effective if you want to add audio sequenced graphics or do simulations in interactivity. Unfortunately, these limitations only became apparent after investing the time and resources into converting the courses. So, after this process was completed, management decided to look for a better development tool than PowerPoint, and they ended up selecting a product called Authorware.

Authorware allowed you to make more exciting courses, and the company ended up spending additional money reinventing the wheel – they converted their PowerPoint courses to Authorware. This was a cheaper endeavor because the graphics and audio already existed, so most of the time was spent re-injecting these files into Authorware, and then polishing it up with better interactivity and animations.

Flash Eventually Made Authorware Obsolete and Forced Another Reboot

At the turn of the century, the US Government came up with a standard for tracking online training, and the problem was that Authorware really didn’t work with that standard. At the same time, Authorware was being discontinued, and it was replaced with another product called Flash. Flash was even better than Authorware in the interactivity and animations departments, and it also played nicely with the new tracking standard.

In order to keep up with the times, the airline embarked on another mission – recreating the courses using the Flash standard. This involved another big budget expenditure.

Over the years, Flash became widely used on the world wide web, and 98% of the computers in the world had the player required to run the Flash files.

HTML5 Replaces Flash, and the Cycle Starts Again

However, around 2010, the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) decided that Flash was not acceptable for use on the internet because it relied on a proprietary platform. Instead, they offered a new standard called HTML5. Around the same time, Apple invented the iPad, and that product instantaneously become a hit. However, Apple was no friend of Flash, and they banned the use of that technology on the iPad.

This situation, in combination with the W3Cs position, started the downward spiral of the Flash platform. Due to this, course developers started to convert their Flash courses into HTML5. This was very expensive and time consuming – there simply was no way to easily convert a Flash file to HTML5, despite the attempts by Google to create a tool for this purpose. Once again, the airline was forced to spend another large sum of money solely for the purpose of reinventing the wheel.

HTML5 is widely used today, especially since the use of Flash has been banned by most browsers.

New Changes to Online Tracking Standards Will Create Similar Issues for Organizations

Currently, online tracking is done using the SCORM standard. This is a standard that was invented by the US Government through the ADLNet initiative. The latest version of this standard is SCORM2004, 4th edition, and it dates back to 2009. No updates have been made to this standard for over 12 years. There’s a good reason for that: SCORM is fairly stiff and difficult to work with, and a new standard is rising to replace it: the experience API, aka xAPI or Tin Can. The xAPI standard is completely different and much more flexible than SCORM, and it can be used for more than online training.

Some other recent developments underscore the challenges that organizations face when the technology used for their online training courses becomes obsolete:

  • Toolbook was a popular way to assemble online training. It is now defunct, and there is no way to easily convert a Toolbook file into HTML5. You need to redo the entire course. If you don’t have the original graphics and audio files, you’ll have to redo everything from scratch since there’s no way to export them.
  • This year, we received a contact from a European training organization that just discovered that Flash can no longer be used for online training – the browsers no longer allow the use of flash files. So, this organization is losing sales because they can no longer use their material, and they’re facing a steep learning curve and a very big expenditure in order to re-create the courses using HTML5.

Questions to Consider Before Creating Your Own Training Materials

For those organizations tempted to create their own online training courses for the sake of saving money, you should consider these examples and learn from the past mistakes of others in order to avoid a potentially very expensive problem should your chosen platform become obsolete.

However, if your organization is still considering creating your own courses after hearing these cautionary tales, make sure your management team can answer the following questions before making such an important decision:

  • Is the development of training material a core function of your organization, even if you provide your own training? Typically, an airline’s mission is to move people and freight from point A to point B. Not all airlines have mastered the development of training materials, and if they did, how much did it cost?
  • For organizations that provide their own training, do they manufacture the simulators and FTDs or do they buy or lease the equipment? To my knowledge, everyone buys or leases this type equipment because this is a specialized field that requires massive upfront investments and knowledge. The development of online training is no different, despite the availability of authoring tools.
  • Do you know how to put together an online course?
  • Do you know what type of team members are required to build the course, and do you know what these team members will cost you on a yearly basis?
  • Do you know how to prevent the “reinventing the wheel” issue when developing a course? Flash and Toolbook were widely used at one point in time, but this fact did not prevent organizations from having to scramble to redo the courses when the these “popular” tools went defunct.
  • Do you know the difference between SCORM and xAPI?
  • Do you know the difference between SCORM, a sco, and a learning object?
  • Do you know the difference between an LMS and an LRS?
  • Do you know how much it will cost you per course hour?
  • How do you measure a course hour?

Some of these questions could be answered by hiring a guru, but these people aren’t cheap, and they may not necessarily be able to efficiently steer your organization through the maze. In the case of my airline, the company did hire an expert who ultimately didn’t possess the knowledge needed to successfully solve these problems. The company reinvented the wheel multiple times. This raises another question: do you know what to look for when hiring an eLearning Development manager or director?

Outsourcing Online Course Creation Is Typically the Wise Choice

In general, you should consider outsourcing this task if one or more of the following apply to your organization:

  • Your organization consists of multiple business units, each with their own training needs.
  • You lack the technology expertise. Your organization may have programmers, but programmers are like medical specialists – they specialize in a particular aspect of the process, not the entire process.
  • You have large training needs – the more courses you need, the more people you’ll need to build the courses.
  • You want interactive eLearning.
  • You Have temporary or short-term development needs.
  • You have budget constraints.
  • You have time constraints. It will often take a long time to ramp up an eLearning development department.
  • You don’t keep up with the changes in the development field (and these changes are happening faster and faster).

As the knight in the end of Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade said: “Choose wisely!” For most organizations, outsourcing online training is a smart decision on many levels, and it will save your airline a great deal of money over time.

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