For decades, universities have dabbled in information and communications technologies (ICT) to augment-and in some cases, supplant-traditional classroom education. Extraordinary improvements in the memory and processing speed of personal computers ushered in the era of computer-based training (CBT), whereby users could access educational material on their own computers and on their own time. But the CBT market really took off in response to the explosive growth of the Internet in the mid- to late-1990s. Today, CBT providers are increasingly abandoning older, non-interactive technologies such as CDROM applications and turning to the World Wide Web to disseminate knowledge. The quality of applications, content, hardware and bandwidth has reached the point where they can support the delivery of customized, cutting-edge, multimedia courseware to virtually anyone with a computer and an Internet connection. Today, the market for Web-based training, or "eLearning," seems at the cusp of reaching critical mass.
A number of colleges, universities, and business schools are pioneering the use of e-Learning in higher education. These range from leading "bricks and mortar" universities such as Stanford, MIT, Columbia, and Wharton School of Business, to virtual universities such as the University of Phoenix, to numerous vocational and managerial training programs by firms such as DeVry and Sylvan. In addition to increasing enrollment and slashing overhead costs, distance learning provides higher education institutions with a number of exciting opportunities to create and disperse knowledge where it would not otherwise be available.
According to IDC, the Internet research and consulting firm, "the number of colleges and universities offering e-Learning will more than double, from 1,500 in 1999 to more than 3,300 in 2004. Student enrollment in these courses will increase 33 percent annually during this time" (December 18, 2000). In most cases, universities work closely with e-Learning specialists to define and implement an e-Learning strategy that best suits the university's objectives. E-Learning providers offer content, hosting, delivery, administrative and development tools, realtime communication, streaming video, and much more.
But before jumping on the bandwagon, however, IDC (April 26, 2000) advises higher education institutions to look to eLearning vendors who:
* Partner with reliable content, hardware, administrative, and application-development providers.
* Offer higher education institutions efficient licensing and individual program design.
* Provide onsite and offsite suites of training and product support.
* Ensure real-time, synchronous class interaction.
* Support multiple third-party applications and platforms.
* Create unique value propositions to students and institutions (e.g., speed, comprehensiveness, cost, ease, and superior content).
While the e-Learning industry is still in its infancy, we have learned a great deal from the early adopters. Here are some aspects of the e-Learning implementation lifecycle that must be considered in any project.
Look before you leap.
Prior to any e-Learning engagement, it is critical that you "look before you leap." Careful planning of an e-Learning project is critical to success. Too often organizations implementing eLearning solutions concentrate too much on the technology itself, losing sight of the core educational and organizational objectives that the solution is intended to facilitate. At the most basic level, the development of a training plan should include a training needs and skills assessment and identification of organizational and end-user performance objectives. The training plan should then consider the training strategy-ranging from instructor-led training, to pure technology-based training, to a blended approach. Further thought should be given to what supporting measures the organization will need to carry out in order to ensure an optimal e-Learning experience for users of the technology. …