Wednesday, September 2, 2009

A Time for Blended eLearning

A Time for Blended eLearning


At the turn of the millennium, eLearning was touted as the next killer application, a technology-based business solution heralded by John Chambers of Cisco and others that would be the key driver of corporate profits and a knowledge-based global economy. At the same time, eLearning was shown to have the inherent capability of delivering training programs—anytime, anywhere—to desktops or laptops in all reaches of the world that had Internet access. That eLearning might, almost as a byproduct, significantly reduce travel and other indirect costs associated with training seemed mere icing on the cake. Thus, the real value-add of eLearning programs at large companies was that they could train and thereby enhance the competency of large numbers of employees who could, in turn, improve products, services, and overall productivity. So, have eLearning systems reached anywhere near this kind of potential?
The short answer is no, but things are moving in the right direction. At the present time, eLearning systems consist of several different software packages with components that were designed and produced by many smaller companies. These components typically include a learning management system, a learning content management system, collaboration software, virtual classroom software, a mobile learning solution, and testing or assessment software. Consequently, organizations that are purchasing these components have necessarily been heavily involved in the integration and customization of these disparate eLearning technologies.
In fact, putting together an eLearning system today is comparable to purchasing an automobile part-by-part for assembly at some later date. So it’s not surprising to hear about the horror stories that companies have encountered with componentized eLearning systems that do not function properly.

These difficulties are a result of interoperability problems and unexpected component limitations in scalability or functionality. And for companies with Human Resources departments that use legacy systems, additional integration and data migration problems have arisen as eLearning systems are being required to incorporate employee training records into company employee files. These difficulties, among others, have raised serious concerns about the functionality of today’s eLearning systems, as well as doubts about whether or not they will live up to their promised business potential.
Nonetheless, strategic eLearning investments are being made in what could be considered “best-in-breed” eLearning system components that can be fully integrated with other enterprise systems to satisfy the complex learning requirements of large organizations. These integrated eLearning systems will, of course, need to be upgraded in the future to include new training and learning technologies that are designed to work within established standards such as AICC and SCORM.
One way to avoid some of the guesswork associated with the initial installation, operation, and maintenance of an eLearning system is to install a hosted or ASP version as a pilot of a more comprehensive eLearning solution under consideration. Here, a hosting organization can provide the eLearning components and the necessary support staff for a specified period of time, typically one year. The company, in turn, pays a per-seat fee for trainees as payment for the pilot system. Then, based on the performance of the pilot, the company can decide on the final system design and the necessary resources to deploy a successful
eLearning solution. In some cases, this type of eLearning hosting model can become a long-term solution for organizations that do not ultimately have the resources, or perhaps the business interest, to build and maintain their own eLearning systems infrastructure.
The primary formats for eLearning today are live, online, or synchronous instruction for many participants in a virtual classroom environment or, alternatively, asynchronous selfxvii paced training for individualized instruction. Such eLearning systems can, of course, be enhanced by conventional training
methodologies that include meetings and seminars, instructorled training that covers specialized topics, and structured onthe- job training. Thus, the term Blended eLearning is broad enough to include complementary methods and technologies used to supplement those included in eLearning systems today.
And more often than not, this Blending will include performance
support and knowledge management technologies as well. With this kind of broad eLearning thinking as a backdrop, it is therefore appropriate that HRD Press is bringing out a new text that is devoted to this more comprehensive view of Blended eLearning. The authors, Drs. David Metcalf and Larry Bielawski, have a wealth of experience in university instructional programs as well as business and government programs associated with the training of personnel using emerging eLearning technologies. In this book, they have succeeded in producing a thorough and incisive description of the state of several technology segments that are currently
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