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About the Author
Read an Excerpt
E-Learning Solutions on a Shoestring
By Jane Bozarth
John Wiley & SonsISBN: 0-7879-7712-8
THE FACT THAT E-LEARNING can be done cheaply does not always mean it should be done cheaply-or, in fact, always done at all. E-learning is a great approach when used thoughtfully and for the right reasons. But I've seen it used badly and seen costs cut to the point of rendering the final product useless. This chapter provides some basics about the uses of e-learning, its benefits, and the decision to move online. We'll also look at considerations when working on a shoestring budget, including the crucial issue of avoiding costly mistakes. Finally, we'll take a look at one of your biggest decisions: whether to buy your solution or build it yourself.
What Is e-Learning?
E-learning has many definitions and takes many forms. My definition-as someone working with very limited funds-is broader than most others. I think of it as anything designed to improve work performance delivered by any electronic means. So my terms would regard e-learning as any training or performance support delivered with any mechanism provided by computer: on the web, through a CD or DVD, or by performance support tools, like checklists and descriptions of processes, available electronically. It can be a pre- or postclassroom activity involving online chat or e-mail discussion; it can be a blended event, in which cognitive information is offered online with an accompanying follow-up group workshop; it can be a relationship with a virtual mentor or community of practice. Basically, I think of e-learning as anything that solves a training or performance problem through the use of computer technologies.
Why Use e-Learning?
E-learning offers many advantages. It provides for just-in-time training; a new supervisor needing to hone her delegation skills needn't wait until the live class is offered again. It can save travel costs, because employees don't have to go to a remote site (which is inconvenient for them as well). It can reduce other costs associated with training, such as trainer salaries, classroom rentals, equipment purchases, and printing expenses. It can reduce the costs and inconvenience associated with having employees away from work. It can ensure consistency in delivery; everyone gets the same message every time. Finally, good e-learning gives the learner some control over when and where to take the program, in choosing when to take breaks (or not), and in deciding which elements of the training are relevant. Used appropriately, e-learning is not only "just-in-time" but also "just-for-me."
But e-learning, one way or another, is expensive. Even "free" approaches incur costs in terms of time and energy. When deciding whether e-learning is right for your organization, give some thought to the items in Table 1.1 and check off those that describe your situation. If more than half of them fit, an online training approach is appropriate.
Moving from Classroom to Online
In thinking about using e-learning, consider the activities and approaches that typically make up the classroom experience:
Lecture Lecture and PowerPoint shows Stories, anecdotes, and metaphors Asking and answering questions Videos Music Quizzes, tests, assessments, certifications, and feedback Case studies Role plays Group activities Self-disclosure exercises, in which learners share something about themselves Reflection activities, such as journal-writing, in which learners are asked to reflect on course material or personal experiences Having the learner demonstrate a skill Pre- and postwork Working with equipment, such as in a computer lab Readings Meetings outside class
All of these things can be done online, most as well as, and some better than, in the classroom. Throughout this book, we'll look at low-cost ways of replicating many of these activities and examine some new ones as well.
Some New Ways of Thinking
This book assumes that you have some experience with classroom training and workplace learning. You already know the basics of engaging an audience, creating interesting activities, and gearing instruction toward desired outcomes. You know how to develop a lesson plan, choose visuals, and facilitate group interactions. And you know a lot about your learners: their reading levels, their work schedules, and their general attitude toward training. As you prepare to move toward e-learning, particularly if you're working on a shoestring budget, it's important to develop manageable expectations and anticipate some adjustments to your knowledge base.
For one thing, you will need to be realistic about the size of your e-learning initiative. If you are a small, or poor, or one-person training shop, your first move into e-learning may be as simple as just putting a manual online. Then you might add a homemade PowerPoint show, gradually develop a roster of courses, and eventually find the need to look seriously at a robust learning management system (LMS).
You may also discover that in some cases, it makes more sense to blend your e-learning programs by combining online materials with classroom activities. Many e-learning programs use the web to supply learners with pre- or postclassroom work, with supplemental case studies, or with manuals, forms, and other documents that are cumbersome to copy, bind, and hand out. Time in the classroom can then be spent on action learning activities such as role plays and hands-on practice rather than on lecture or presentation of material.
Another adjustment for those experienced with classroom training is the idea of size or length of training programs. Effective e-learning typically consists of small chunks or nuggets of information and instruction. Online, there are no three-full-day courses: as a rule of thumb, fifteen to twenty-five minutes of asynchronous training (with the learner working alone at a computer) at a stretch is about all a learner can remain alert for. Although this may present a change for you, learning to chunk information brings a big advantage for those working with limited funds: small pieces of instruction are much easier to create, reuse, recycle, and repurpose, which can help enormously in saving costs.
Although much of your classroom experience will transfer to the online training environment, the move to e-learning will require you to develop some new skills. Do-it-yourself approaches may require developing knowledge of web design or instructional planning. Buying solutions and negotiating for deals will demand that you educate yourself about products and technologies. I hope you see this as a challenging opportunity and find it an enjoyable and satisfying way to stretch and grow. There is a bonus to this as well: learning some tech talk will go a long way toward helping you build a relationship with your information technology (IT) or other computer support staff or outside designers and developers. You'll have a better understanding of what you're asking them to do-like whether it's a five-minute or five-day task-and you'll be better able to articulate what you want. Perhaps they, in turn, will be willing to learn a little more about training delivery and instructional design.
Finally, realize that while good e-learning solutions can be had on limited resources, there are going to be some trade-offs. Doing things cheaply sometimes means they won't be elegant. Although you don't want to end up with shoddy or poorly designed work, neither will you always be able to obtain top-of-the-line animation or custom multimedia. I'm not suggesting that you should launch amateurish programs, but if I were a learner with the choice between playing a homemade PowerPoint game or driving three hours to sit in a classroom and be presented with the same material, I'd take the Power-Point game. You will need to make some decisions about acceptable quality and must-have versus nice-to-have features and capabilities. Keep in mind that many expensive e-learning products come with lots of glitter, bells, and whistles but nevertheless fail in their intent to teach. Whatever resources you do have, try to invest them in the things that matter. Though it's true that learners can be seduced by pretty pages and gimmicky animations, I'd argue they care more about a quality learning experience-and feeling that their time was used well-than in using a flashy, expensive product that wasted their time.
Avoiding Costly Mistakes
As you work to develop e-learning solutions, it's important to act carefully and thoughtfully. If it's any consolation, the fact that you have limited resources may actually work in your favor. Having little money can save you from the expensive e-learning missteps some organizations have made:
The large government entity that estimated first-year use at 30,000 and purchased licenses accordingly. Actual first-year use: 2,000. The agency that bought a product unaware that running it would require the purchase of another product. The school that bought an authoring program so complex that no one could ever figure it out. The training unit that purchased an LMS that didn't fit with any of the organization's other data systems. The midwestern state government system with such poor internal communication that at one point, forty different agencies had negotiated forty different contracts-with the same e-learning vendor. The organization that spent half its e-learning budget on expensive game creation software: only one person can run it, and employees are already bored with the games.
This book is meant to help you leverage your resources, avoid expensive mistakes, and craft or purchase your own good solutions without breaking your bank. Take your time and think through what you really want to accomplish. Also, seek out other resources and experts to help you learn about e-learning. The more educated you are as a consumer, the less likely you'll fall into one of the traps listed above.
Using e-Learning: Buy Off-the-Shelf or Build It Yourself?
Once you've decided that e-learning is right for your situation, you have a big decision to make: Will you build a custom solution, or will you buy a ready-made off-the-shelf (OTS) product? And if you decide you need a custom solution, will you build it yourself or hire an outside contractor to do the work? Although those with scarce resources say hiring a contractor or purchasing an OTS product is out of the question, assess the real cost of doing the work yourself: your time and salary, including whether you'll have to learn a new piece of software from scratch. Consider too the time and salary of coworkers who may need to be involved. If there's any chance at all of finding money, you may want to try to make a case for outsourcing the development or purchasing an OTS program.
In making this decision, consider how many people will use the product. It doesn't make sense to spend two hundred person-hours creating an online program that will be used by only fifteen people. Unless the information is proprietary and absolutely requires company-specific language or graphics and will be used by more than five hundred learners, then using an off-the-shelf product will likely be your truly less expensive choice. Figure 1.1 presents a flowchart of the buy-versus-build decision.
You'll notice that an alternative to buying an OTS product outright is customizing one. This can be done not only by the vendor reworking the product (an expensive proposition) but also through providing your own introductory, supplementary, or concluding content. Think of this as adding on to, rather than renovating, the OTS program. We'll look at this further in Chapter Ten with an example of a how a simple clarifying "welcome" page made it possible to use a great off-the-shelf product at minimal cost.
Another option is that it's possible to obtain an OTS solution entirely for free. For instance, there are dozens of free web tutorials on common computer applications, such as adding narration to PowerPoint or creating spreadsheets in Excel. One of these may very well solve your problem. (There may even be a more local solution for you. Many people don't realize that Windows XP installs with built-in animated, narrated tutorials for many of the functions of Microsoft Office products.) You may need to do some homework first-the tutorials vary widely in quality-but searching the web for "Excel spreadsheet tutorial" or "adding narration to MS PowerPoint" might give you a no-cost ready-made solution.
Another issue to consider is your vision. What do you want your e-learning program to look like next year? In two years? Do you want a few quick modules to cover your organization's mandatory topics, a single online orientation program for new employees, or a robust catalogue with a thousand courses? Factor these considerations into your buy-versus-build decision too.
Good e-learning has the potential to change the face of workplace performance improvement. Apart from the many cost savings are the opportunities to make training more accessible and useful to learners. Another plus is that once you've demonstrated some small successes with your thrifty approach to e-learning, your managers and budget staff might be more willing to start talking about money for additional projects. In Chapter Two, we'll look at getting started in building e-learning solutions by taking stock of the assets you already have.
The Case of the Early Adopter
In the early 1960s, Emmett Rogers (1995) introduced his theory of diffusion of innovations, outlining the ways in which people tend to adopt technology. A handful of us are what Rogers calls "early adopters." You probably know the type: they buy the new gadget or product the day it's introduced, when it's huge and complicated, with many bugs still needing to be worked out. Of course, the world needs early adopters; without them, no new piece of technology would ever get off the ground. But it helps to have less-early adopter types around to temper things.
A training colleague, formerly a middle school teacher, tells this story. In the late 1970s, the school's principal returned from a conference enamored of a new technology he called the "VRC." (That is not a typo. He thought it was "VRC," not "VCR.") At the next faculty meeting, the principal announced that the VRC was the "wave of the future" that would "change classroom instruction forever." He then said he'd spent more than half of the next year's budget on beta-format video cameras and other equipment. His plan was to tape his teachers delivering their "best lessons" (fractions, geography, and so forth), which middle school students would then be eager to watch at their leisure.
The result: unwatched videos, wasted time, and the loss of half the annual budget.
Excerpted from E-Learning Solutions on a Shoestring by Jane Bozarth Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Table of ContentsList of Tables and Figures.
Introduction: Getting the Most from This Resource.
Chapter 1: e-Learning: Some Basics.
What Is e-Learning?
Why Use e-Learning?
Moving from Classroom to Online.
Some New Ways of Thinking.
Avoiding Costly Mistakes.
Using e-Learning: Buy Off-the-Shelf or Build It Yourself?
PART ONE: DOING IT YOURSELF.
Chapter 2: Getting Started with Doing It Yourself.
Take Inventory: You Probably Have More Than You Think.
What Else Should You Have?
Want versus Need: What Will Meet Your Objectives?
Chapter 3: Building Simple Pages and Programs.
Using What You Already Have: MS Office Products and MSPaint.
Time to Move Up? More Advanced Design Tools.
Chapter 4: Enhancing Basic Programs.
Free Clip Art and Other Media.
Free Design Templates.
Free Interactivity Tools.
Free Microsoft Downloads.
Design Tips and Tricks.
Chapter 5: Creating Inexpensive Quizzes, Games, Searches,Puzzles, and Simulations.
Searches: Treasure Hunts and Web Quests.
Chapter 6: Creating Low-Cost Collaboration.
Synchronous or Asynchronous Collaboration?
Creating Collaborative Activities.
Chapter 7: Creating Performance Support Tools on aShoestring.
When to Use Performance Support Tools.
Which Tool to Use.
Performance Support Tools: Some Examples.
Chapter 8: Leveraging Resources.
Inexpensive—and Possibly Free—Help.
Repurposing and Reusing.
PART TWO: BUYING YOUR SOLUTIONS.
Chapter 9: Paying Someone Else to Build for You.
What Are You Buying?
How Much Does It Cost?
What Affects Costs?
How to Save on Costs.
Beware of Hidden Costs.
Doing Business: The Bid and Request for Proposal Process.
Choosing a Vendor for Developing Custom Content.
Chapter 10: Buying Off-the-Shelf Courses.
Déjà Vu: Buy or Build?
Know Your Criteria.
Customizing OTS Products by Adding On, Not Renovating.
Tips for Working with Vendors of OTS Products.
The Portal Alternative.
PART THREE: PUTTING IT ALL TOGETHER.
Chapter 11: Hosting Your Programs and Tracking LearnerData.
Tracking Learner Data.
Moving Up: Do You Need a Learning Management System?
Tracking: A Recap.
Chapter 12: Application.
Mixing It Up: Matching Approaches to Learners and LearningStyles.
Cases: The Buy-or-Build Decision.
Cases: Assembling Tools and Approaches to Create e-LearningPrograms.
References and Other Sources.
About the Author.
What People are Saying About This
"Effective training is key to preparing our workforce for thedemands and challenges of the global economy. This book highlightsthe fact that, even on a limited budget, there are many toolsavailable online that will increase efficiency and improveproductivity in businesses, government agencies, and otherorganizations."-- Michael F. Easley, governor, State of North Carolina
"I adore bargains and this book points the way to onlinelearning bargains that help folks learn! Others would have youthink you need expensive vendors and infrastructure from theget-go, but Jane Bozarth shows you how to get started on ashoestring."-- Patti Shank, managing partner, Learning Peaks, and coauthor,Making Sense of Online Learning
"Jane Bozarth finally provides us a guide to understanding whate-learning technologies can do for us¾without breaking thebank. The realization that you can do e-learning for pennies perparticipant shows us what we should have always known: the focusisn’t the technology, it’s the learning."-- Jennifer Hofmann, founder, InSync Training, and author, Liveand Online!
"e-Learning Solutions on a Shoestring should be requiredreading for any organization considering an e-learning program.Jane Bozarth has done much of the groundwork for us by reviewingand prioritizing resources and filling her book full of ways tosave money—a tremendously practical and useful guide."-- Colleen O’Connor Grochowski, assistant dean for curriculumdevelopment, Duke University School of Medicine
"Jane Bozarth’s straight-shooting, can-do style gives hopeand encouragement to those left out in the cold by high developmentcosts. Proving that quality e-learning solutions are within reach,e-Learning on a Shoestring is the real deal fororganizations trying to work with few or no resources."-- Nancy Gustafson, manager, organization effectiveness, FirstCitizens Bank, Raleigh, North Carolina
"If you are starting to develop a plan for the e-learningfuture, I can’t think of a better place to begin than withthis book. It provides the nuts-and-bolts tools that could changeany training organization dramatically and for the better."-- Kyle Hoffman, senior project manager, Institute for HumanServices