The Path to eLearning does not have GPS Coordinates
eLearning has been around the aviation industry for a while, so it might seem a bit counter-intuitive when I state that there is no defined formula to implementing eLearning programs in your organization. After all, everyone knows that in order to implement eLearning, all you really need is an electronic course to deliver over the internet, and some sort of software on the server to track the information. Right?
Sure, the basic concept is exactly that simple, but getting there is much more complex. There are a plethora of issues you need to take into consideration prior to making any final online training course decisions, and each decision you make can have far ranging consequences down the road, if it’s not properly considered and the decisions aren’t given proper forethought.
A basic eLearning program consists of four elements: a course that delivers information about something, some kind of software to track what a student is doing in the course, a method for the course and the tracking software to exchange information, and a person to administer and manage the whole thing -aka the administrator.
Since there are really only 4 elements to an elearning program, it seems pretty straight forward to put one together, but as the saying goes, the devil’s in the details.
In order to achieve any goal, it’s important to establish a vision for what the end result will look like. Once you’ve established the vision, it’s a matter of defining how to get there, and this is where a solid understanding of the whole eLearning concept comes in. The first building block in any eLearning program is hiring an LMS administrator or eLearning manager who can define (and help you achieve) that all-important vision. This is a big step, and one you want to ensure you get right. So, how do you identify the right person for the job? ELearning is an esoteric field, and chances are that your company’s Human Resource department doesn’t know what kind of qualifications the LMS administrator or eLearning manager should have. And if your organization hires the wrong type of person, this will emphatically result in the wrong results – meaning you’ve wasted, time, money, and other resources without managing to achieve the vision that would drive positive results.
The next step in the process is the software. The software that tracks what a person is doing in the course is called the Learning Management System, or LMS for short. The course and LMS are designed to exchange information, with the course providing most of the data. In order to implement a successful eLearning program, you should know the answer to the following questions: Do you know what kind of data is tracked? What do you want to do with this data?
You would be surprised at the inquisitive looks I get from so called ‘eLearning’ specialists when I ask them this last question! It’s one thing to collect information because that’s what the LMS is supposed to do, but it’s quite another to use that information for useful purposes. Do you have any established metrics in place? As an example, let’s take a look at the pass/fail status of a course.
All Learning Management Systems will track the use of a course and deliver a pass or fail status based on the completion of the test at the end of a module. Most basic LMS’ will just track the latest results, so with these types of systems, a user could fail a test 99 times, and pass it on the 100th time, and the instructor/administrator would not know that since they would only see the passed status. However, from a training management point of view, the fact that it took someone 100 tries to pass a test is much more interesting than knowing that he/she passed the test. However, not every LMS tracks this information the way Avsoft’s LMS does.
Based on many years of experience managing an LMS in an airline context, we came to the conclusion that some of this information is absolutely worthy of tracking, so when we redesigned our Learning Management System, we incorporated a feature that tracks every failure, and the results so far have been pretty informative; you can actually get a glimpse into the student’s personalities, meaning that you can start differentiating the pilots with the ‘let’s just get it over with’ mentality, and the pilots with a much more professional attitude.
Another type of data that most LMS will track is the time spent in a course, but since eLearning is about a student self-pacing themselves, why would that information be useful? Why track it? That number, by itself, doesn’t really provide the training manager with any additional insight into the training program or the student. On the other hand, aggregating the results together provide you with a bench mark that allows the administrator to compare the overall performance of an individual against the peers, but in order to do that, the LMS needs to provide you with the aggregate results, and a really good system will not only automatically do the aggregation, but it will also allow you to compare a particular student against the average.
What about cheating? Do you need a system that will attempt to detect this, or does your organization assume that everyone is honest? If your organization just assumes that everyone is honest, then it might be cheaper and more expeditious to just take people’s word when they say they did the course and got X%. Then you can just track the results on a spreadsheet and dispense with the expensive software.
If your organization does assume that some students will cheat, then does the organization have procedures in place to deal with it? The reason I bring this up is that cheaters are very good at seeding doubt about the reliability of an LMS, and they usually use this tactic when the LMS administrator is the type that will believe people over the computer. One tactic used by this group of people involves taking a screen shot of the course tree, doctoring it up, and submitting it to the LMS administrator as proof that the course was successfully completed. Of course, the administrator will check the results in the LMS and discover that what the LMS reports and what the student reports are two different things, so this type of LMS administrator will believe the student over the LMS. So, if you want to avoid this type of situation, then you need something to determine if the screen shot is legitimate. Our new LMS features a tool that enables a system administrator to take a screen shot and determine the legitimacy of the screen shot, to mitigate this issue and weed out the students who would rather spend time doctoring a screenshot than doing the necessary work to actually complete the course.
What about the delivery of training based on due dates or qualifications?. This is a delivery mechanism that makes training available when a student is in the training window, and the training is removed when outside of the training window, or after passing all the training events required for the current cycle. Does your LMS provide this feature, or do you need to plan on manually controlling this? Or, if it’s controlled, how many hoops does the administrator need to jump through in order to control these dates?
Depending on what you need and your vision, it’s possible that you won’t find an LMS that checks all the boxes. Then you’re left with the dilemma – if all your boxes can’t be checked, how do you choose the right system? Should you ask a vendor to modify their system for you? Should you just live without some of the features, or should you develop your own? Each of these choices have pros and cons, and the trade-offs may or may not be worth it to you.
The decisions you make aren’t restricted to the Learning Management System. What about the courses themselves? Are you going to outsource that, or are you going to create yourself? If you create them, what tool will you use? Who will do the work? Do you have the time to do it? Do you have the required team members such as the graphics artist, recording artist, etc…?
Once you have your LMS and your course, what standard will you use for the communication between the course and the LMS? There are many versions of the communication standard, and there are pros and cons to each version.
And finally, once you have your learning system set up, who will manage it? What will be the qualifications of the person in charge of the system management? What selection criteria will you use to hire the right person? You would be surprised at the number of people who claim to be eLearning specialists but don’t really understand the engine under the hood.
As you can see, there are myriad of considerations to take into account, and my hope is that this blog will help you sort this out over time.