In its various forms, e-learning has been hailed both as learning’s greatest and worst advance. As The Top 10 Benefits of E-learning article says, this debate rests upon the quality of the learning materials and their suitability to the learning challenge they’re intended to meet.
Here are ten things you need to take into consideration in deciding any e-learning’s suitability and quality:
Quality criteria for effective e-learning materials include that they:
Each learning delivery medium has seven key characteristics. Each of these characteristics has its ‘quality criteria’ that affect that delivery technology’s efficiency and effectiveness:
In determining quality and quality standards for online learning materials where learners are concerned, there are five key areas: cultural appeal; response time; interaction level; degree of engagement, and accessibility.
Thinking about the e-learning materials’ purpose, as an e-learning developer you must know (a) what you need to do, (b) whether you have appropriate tools with which to achieve this, (c) what you’re trying to achieve via the learning materials, and (d) why you’re trying it do it like this. The answers will be couched in terms of modularity, accessibility, usability and quality.
We applaud – and want to adopt – ‘best practice’ but what is it? What does ‘best’ (compared with what?) mean? How do you know when you’ve got it? How do you generate best practice and what do you do with it once you have it? If this ‘best practice’ becomes widespread – even ‘standard’ - it ceases to be ‘best practice’. So how do you ensure you stay at the forefront of best practice?
In online learning technology, is ‘best practice’ about how you present learning content to learners? Is it about how online learning meets the needs of an organisation and/or its workers? Is it about making ‘savings’? Is it about the quality of the learning experience for the learners? Is it about how quickly learners learn and apply what they need to learn? Or is it about something else entirely?
Evaluation is the purposeful gathering, analysis and discussion of evidence from relevant sources about the quality, worth and impact of the learning. So, there’s always an element of subjectivity involved in the evaluation process.
Evaluation has an impact on practice and is entirely dependent on timing. It’s either summative (where judgement comes at the end of the exercise) or formative (where judgement comes before or during the exercise). Evaluation involves three quality indicators:
Learning materials’ commissioners and developers can strive for ever-richer visual, auditory and – notably in the fields of virtual and augmented reality - even haptic interfaces along with the highest levels of interactivity. What’s produced may be impressive but can it always be justified in terms of the value it adds to an online learning program? Will people be persuaded to learn only if they’re entertained? How far is high quality technical wizardry merely a hook – or how does it make the message more memorable, understandable, integrated and accessible?
Entertainment isn’t learning materials’ key goal but, if the learning materials’ designer can achieve a well-balanced, well-constructed, and entertaining learning environment, it has potential to positively influence learners’ emotions and motivation.
Producing e-learning materials – like any project – involves managing three factors: cost, time and quality. If you alter one of these variables, you alter the others too. Thus, increasing quality will lead to increases in time and cost.
Among the six things that can go wrong with a project is a mismatch between the product’s final and its budgeted quality. Here, the key is to keep the learning materials ‘fit for purpose’.
In addition, there are three further variables in an e-learning project – representing the ‘human element’: the subject matter experts involved in the project, the commissioning client team and the project development team.
It’s impossible to control quality in all deliverables in an e-learning project unless:
E-learning developers may be tempted to accept commissions to build high-quality e-learning materials even if they know that the result won’t lead to effective learning and performance improvements. The result compounds the (erroneous but justifiable) view that e-learning ‘doesn’t work’.
Don’t opt for online learning if you’re only interested in reducing the costs of learning. The only justification on quality grounds for using online learning is to deliver greater benefits for the organisation via the learners’ subsequent performance.
The quality of e-learning content is key since this content is the change agent within your organisation. So, your organisation’s future performance, competitive edge and success depends on it.
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