E Learning providers

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Creating a complete e learning experience for your learners can be a complicated process. Producing a professional training package with targeted content and strong branding requires a number of interconnected though very distinct disciplines.


Here is a brief guide to the process of e learning creation.


Needs analysis

Before starting to produce the actual learning content the first stage is to conduct a needs analysis of your staff members. This assessment will determine the extent and scope of the training that is needed for your staff. It might not necessarily be the case that all staff undertakes the same training. Different knowledge levels must be catered for so that the training is of most benefit to each staff level. It would be of little use giving your management team the same level of competence training as you give your new starters. The training must provide a realistic learning path for each respective staff level.


Development platform

Another important decision in the creation of your e learning is to determine the platform the training is to be delivered on. Advances in technologies have meant that learning on the move has become a very viable option with candidates no longer studying in a classroom environment in front of a PC they can now learn on the train ride home! The delivery method is a definite factor in determining which production tool is used to create the training. An example of a fundamental production decision comes if you need your training to run on tablets and mobile phones. Flash programming produces attractive vector based animated content but will not run on the majority of smartphones and as such must be excluded as a development option.


Determining the browser type, performance level and even existing software configurations are all important when considering a minimum specification for delivery. This minimum specification should be the performance level at which all your devices will comfortably run your training and should be agreed with your supplier (if you have one) before production begins.


There are numerous factors involved in the decision to choose a development platform. These factors could include the skill level of your development team, the nature of the content, the overall cost of the software and the geographical location of your team.


No longer is software based solely on the workstation of the developer as it had been previously. It is now possible to work collaboratively from wherever you are on the globe. Not only can you develop independent of your office environment but your clients and Subject Matter Experts can check your work and make comments as development continues.


Software can be the largest initial expenditure when first deciding to create an e learning course. In most instances individual licences are needed for all the developers going to work on the project. Depending on the type of software this could easily run to thousands of pounds. It is probably this initial expense more than anything else which makes many clients turn to external developers to create their e learning.


Another deciding factor when choosing a development platform is the skill level of your development team. In-house training departments may not have the specialised skills that an established e learning company has and as such may only be able to use a simpler development platform.

Here is a list of few of the main development platforms and a brief explanation of each:

Adobe Captivate

Abobe Captivate has a facility that can bring Powerpoint documents into an e learning development tool. With a minimal amount of expertise, navigation can be added and you have a basic e learning course. More experienced users can add layers of complexity and build highly interactive e learning. Flash animated elements are incorporated in the output but will not play in many mobile devices.

Adobe Flash

The nature of the learning, whether you want a highly animated or a simple page turning course will have a bearing on the type of development tool you choose. Flash at this moment is the primary tool for creating rich animated content. The vector based nature of its graphics means that file sizes are relatively low. Actionscript is the powerful integral programming language and allows the possibility of complex interactions. The language requires a deal of knowledge to master and is not really aimed at the beginner.

HTML

At its core is a simple nuts and bolts mark-up language that provides the framework for most of today's websites. It was common at the start of the e learning era that courses were entirely programmed in html. Simple interactions were possible with the use of Javascript but this was a painfully slow process. In recent times and the current iteration of HTML5 further interaction is possible and has opened up the possibility of having saleable content for mobile devices. Essentially though this is still hand coding and requires a degree of competency from its developer and through the use of templates it could become a more viable development tool it is still time consuming. HTML5 is currently not supported on many of the current browsers.

Lectora

Lectora is an authoring tool which outputs html and javascript. The authoring environment is certainly more intuitive to use than HTML coding. With a reasonable amount of expertise, pages can be created and text and graphics added quickly. The program allows layers of complexity through the use of variables and use of external html elements. Also, Lectora can easily import Flash elements and video files.

Articulate

A development tool which works alongside Powerpoint to create rapid training solutions. Templates allow the developer to quickly create complex e learning interactivity.

Instructional Design

After choosing the development platform the next step in the process is to begin to determine the actual content. It may be that you already have your training in document form and simply need to show it on another platform. Another option might be that you need a Subject Matter Expert (SME) to write the content. The SME will be an expert in your field (often a member of your own staff) and will be familiar with your processes and working techniques.


Whichever method was used to write your content a body of work will be produced. This work will usually be taken by an instructional designer and organised into chunks of learning. At this point chapters, sections, screen numbers and menus will be determined. This will provide the user with a clear well-ordered learning path with sections of work that will hopefully not be overly long and as a result un-engaging.


As well as organising the content, a good instructional designer will need to make the content on each page interesting to the user. The main reason the training exists is to engage your staff and to get across key learning points which will hopefully be taken from the process. The more interest the user has the more they will hopefully learn. Content can be given more interest with the use of video, animation, illustration and interactions.

Video

A relatively expensive method of production but can put across the learning point in an engaging way. Many users will prefer watching footage rather than reading pages of text. This method is viable if your budget will extend to (possibly) employing actors, hiring filming equipment and after-production to include converting the footage into a format that is useable on your chosen platform. Another possible draw back with video delivery is the increased file sizes which are produced. Large file sizes may limit the successful playing of video on slower internet connections.

Animation

Producing a moving image on screen can definitely can make content more interesting. Animation has long been used in e learning to bring life to learning screens. Early e learning examples used simple animated characters to explain key points to users. More recently the animator has the tools to create detailed 3D environments which immerse the user in the learning experience. The more likely use of animation is to show different processes on screen (for example to show moving air flow through an engine) or to create moving interface elements or attractive title screens.


Drawbacks to creating animated content include further expense needed to pay for the necessary software, the need to use a trained artist and (although less than for video) an increase in file sizes. As mentioned previously Flash content will not display correctly on many smartphones and must be factored in when considering animation methods.

Illustration

Whether drawn or photographic, an illustration can bring life to a text-heavy page. The skills needed to produce detailed illustrations can make this method expensive and time consuming. You will have to weigh up the creative direction your project is to have before you decide how you want your training to look. The proliferation of cheap high quality cameras has made putting photographic images into training far easier. Images could easily be taken in your workplace (for instance) and be quickly transferred into your training. If taking photographs is not practical there are a number of online resources where you can buy high quality images, which with simple manipulation, can quickly give your training a professional appearance. Images bought from online retailers must be budgeted for as costs can build if not kept in check.


Photograph repository

http://www.istockphoto.com

Interactions

A training package can (if the client desires it) be wholly without interaction. Programming methods can move through screens on a timed pause and not involve the user clicking the mouse at all. People read at different speeds though and the use of either pause or back/next buttons to stop the content are interactions at their most basic. Requiring the user to click the next button is a much used method of giving control to the pace of the learner.


There are many other interactions which the designer can use to enliven content. Creating questions is an obvious way the user can engage with the content. The learner proceeds through content screens and is given a question (not always tracked) to see whether they have learned the key points in that block of training. Complex assessments can be put in place which can be a necessary requisite for the completion of the course. Learning Management Systems (which we'll look at later) are used to track the answers provided and score the candidates. They can give feedback to prompt the user to return to specific parts of the learning and generate certificates after successful completion.


Other useful interactions include click to reveal, where images (or text) reveal further information and drag and drop interaction, where objects have to be dragged to a correct destination onscreen.


Interactions must be used intuitively and give the user interest in the page without too much repetition. If used successfully they can bring interest to the learning and invigorate the user experience the content must be designed to a realistic level which will keep the user interest whilst giving goals for progression.


Learning Management System (LMS)

The Learning Management System essentially delivers and manages e learning course(s). Administration costs can be reduced as the LMS can automate a number of routine tasks. Data from logins and test results are fed into a central system and can be monitored. A problem that has emerged from the development of mobile learning is that existing LMS require a web connection with the user to operate reliably. The problem with mobile devices is that the connection to the web is often lost so the transfer of data is not consistent.


Development of the Tin can api is an LMS solution that aims to correct this signal issue by feeding data occasionally. Although Tin Can has not presently been widely adopted it is an interesting development towards a truly mobile e learning solution.

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