Mike Alcock, MD of Atlantic Link Ltd, argues that the landscape of e-learning has changed out of all recognition as a result of rapid e-learning authoring software. He also argues that with e-learning consultants beginning to use the tools themselves to aid collaboration with clients, the industry will look entirely different again in five years time.
It is clear now that rapid e-learning is not a passing fad. Over the past five years, tools which allow non-programmers to produce sophisticated e-learning have developed explosively, matched only by the demand for them from front rank large and medium sized businesses. As promised, the tools have delivered e-learning development back into the hands of the trainers within companies. They have discovered that they can produce the courses they want quickly and easily without having to outsource to e-learning houses.
For many trainers, the frustrations of high budget development of bespoke e-learning with long timescales, inflexible communications and inadequate scope for amendment and extension have now been left behind. Subject matter experts are embracing the more sophisticated rapid e-learning tools which allow server side development with international collaboration and “instant” course deployment. They have become adept at incorporating flash animations, pdfs, PowerPoint presentations, audio-visual material and any number of other techniques for getting training messages across to users in effective and imaginative ways.
Every industry survey shows a growing demand for e-learning and in particular an interest in acquiring rapid authoring tools, explaining the booming growth of companies selling rapid e-learning. As trainers discover the freedom that the technology gives, they are selecting more sophisticated rapid e-learning software to give themselves maximum flexibility in creating the learning that their users require.
It has also become clear that the front rank of rapid e-learning software developers are going to continually push forward the frontiers of what their software can achieve. We have already seen in the last few months developers announcing major new features in diverse areas.
One particularly important area is the development of e-learning specifically designed to be used on mobile devices such as phones and PDAs. The normal approach of simply reducing the size of a PC designed course for mobile use will not give a satisfactory result. The rush towards personalised learning makes it important that courses are specifically designed for the small screen, so that e-learning can be undertaken on the move. The more advanced rapid e-learning software incorporates this facility for authoring for the mobile screen, just one example of how the software is being designed with the future in mind.
Similarly, e-learning designed to allow disabled access is becoming hugley important. Disability discrimination legislation demands that those with disabilities are not disadvantaged in their training or other career development prospects. Rapid e-learning software is again anticipating this forward requirement with facilities to design e-learning to W3C AA standards being incorporated in latest versions.
The retail environment has long been a problem area for trainers. Rapid staff turnover means that large quantities of training are required but the costs of delivering that training in classroom situations are prohibitive. The alternative has been learning “on the job”, inevitably leading to poorer customer service achievement. Rapid e-learning software has again been alive to this need, with functionality now being designed which allows e-learning simulations to be run on the very EPOS terminals that staff will use in customer facing situations. Training is therefore achieved cheaply in-store in a very realistic learning environment.
Developer adoption of rapid e-learning
This continuing technological development means that e-learning developers can no longer rely on being more technologically sophisticated than rapid e-learning and need to utilise their other natural competitive advantages to sell their services. These lie in their creativity, knowledge, understanding of instructional design techniques and their experience. The first signs of the next stage in the uptake of rapid e-learning software are now being to appear. This next stage is the adoption of rapid e-learning technology by developers who recognize that using it gives them a competitive advantage by allowing them to interact with clients in a new way.
Laurence Wilson, who runs an independent e-learning consultancy, recently employed this approach on a project for recruitment giant Vedior. By building the courses for Vedior on-line using a collaborative authoring tool, he was able to share the development process with the end customer, ensuring that the client was happy with every stage of the development. At the end of the development cycle, Vedior purchased the tools so that they could update and maintain the courses that Laurence had developed. The client can now commission Laurence to create additional courses for them, confident in the knowledge that they will receive top quality materials that they can then maintain themselves.
Similarly innovative is the approach of e-learning consultants Kineo who have produced what they call “flatpack” e-learning courses which are compatible with my own company’s rapid e-learning software. Kineo’s Managing Partner Steve Rayson explains: “We know from years of designing and developing e-learning courses that one organisation’s absence management e-learning requirements are probably 80% the same as the next. Flatpacks work on the 80/20 principle. So we’ve taken that 80% in common, developed it for re-use, complete with graphics, questions, everything you need. All you need to do is add the 20% to make it specific to your organisation and publish in an authoring tool. They’re fully compatible with Atlantic Link’s Content Point.”
These are just two examples of consultants embracing the technology of rapid e-learning and working with it in different ways to their own competitive advantage. These consultants are in the vanguard of further change in the industry which I believe, within five years, will see rapid e-learning tools being used almost universally in the production of e-learning, both in-house and by consultants. Many companies will continue to buy e-learning from consultants in order to draw on their non-technological expertise, but they will insist on these courses being written using rapid e-learning tools which enable the company to collaborate on, amend, and extend the learning as it suits them. In this way rapid e-learning tools are set to dominate e-learning production for the foreseeable future.
* Mike Alcock is MD of Europe’s leading producer of Rapid E-learning Software, Atlantic Link Ltd, and a committee member of the E-learning Network.