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-5. What are the steps for setting up an e-learning system?

- Figure out what you need e-learning for.

- Get the system set up on a small scale.

- Communicate to the students.

- Deliver the training.

- See if it really works in your environment.

- Expand the scale.

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E-learning will be a change in the way your business operates, so it might be best to start small and expand in an orderly fashion. Here are the major steps:

Step for Setting Up an E-Learning System

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1. Figure out what you need e-learning for

Get clear in your mind, and in the mind of everyone involved in setting up the e-learning system, exactly what you need e-learning for. Write it down. This step sounds so simple that it's easily overlooked. More often than not, that would lead to your developing a system that doesn't do what you had (only vaguely) imagined.

To be specific, if you need e-learning to immediately train a small but widely dispersed sales force, you'll tend towards one kind of e-learning solution. But if your problem is getting the skills of thousands of employees upgraded to a certain level

over a period of years, you'll tend toward another kind of solution. Those solutions will be as different as a motorcycle and a 18-wheel truck, even though both are methods of transportation.

2. Get the system set up on a small scale

Some people like to wait to launch a system until the whole thing is completely ready. I recommend getting something going on a small scale even if it doesn't do everything. The advantages:

- Any mistakes you make will likely be small.

- You'll be able to recover from mistakes before the final system is launched.

Maybe you're one of those people who don't make mistakes. But my experience is that systems development is something where mistakes are commonly made—there needs to be time built in to recover from the mistakes you know you'll make.

3. Communicate to the students

You need to tell the students a lot of things, including:

- What training they can get in e-learning form

- How to get to the e-learning courses

- Why the company is now using e-learning (instead of the old way of training)

- What's in it for them (in contrast to what's in it for the company)

Again, the point about communicating seems obvious, but not communicating well enough with the end users is the biggest mistake that companies make when they are trying to get employees to do something new and different.

4. Start to

deliver the training on a small scale

Keep the scale small to start with. You'll expand later.

5. See if it

really works in your environment

Have a method for identifying and analyzing problems and fixing them quickly.

Also, have a predefined measurement that tells you if you're hitting the mark or not in terms of training. If you think of your goal as a target, then you need to know whether you're hitting in the bull's-eye or on the outer ring. (Don't be one of those teams that shoot the arrow first and then draw the target later, with the arrow sticking nicely in the bull's-eye.)

6. Expand the scale

Once you are comfortable with running things on a small scale, expand the scale. Deliver more courses to more students.

You might want to expand the scale in a series of steps instead of expanding from small-scale to large-scale in one swoop.

-6. What do you have to maintain in your e-learning system?

- You have to update your e-learning system so it stays fresh. You have to keep courseware up-to-date, keep student access authorizations up-to-date, and periodically upgrade system hardware and software.

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Your job isn't over once the e-learning system is set up. You have to maintain it and keep it fresh. (In the same way, if you don't do your automobile maintenance, your car will break down much sooner than it would otherwise.)

The key things to maintain in an e-learning system are:

- Courseware. A common task required by an e-learning system is putting up new courses and taking down obsolete courses. If you are going to take a course in Ancient Greek, a course from ten years ago is pretty much the same as a new course. But if you're learning about new technologies (for example, learning to use state-of-the-art computer applications), then a course only a few months old may be hopelessly out of date. Someone has to do the job of adding new courses and taking down old ones.

- Instructors. If you are using instructor-led e-learning courses, you need to match up the right instructor skills with the right courses so you know which instructor you can schedule to teach which course. But instructors will come and go, skills for individual instructors will be enhanced, and the courses an instructor is interested in teaching will change. Someone has to do the job of keeping instructor records up-to-date.

- Students. Only certain people will be authorized to take your e-learning courses. But this list needs constant maintenance since employees come and go.

- IT upgrades. Your e-learning system is built on hardware and software that get upgraded over time. You get new, faster computers. You get the next level of the operating system. You get the next release of the LMS software. All of this needs to be managed in an organized manner.

A common mistake is to neglect to budget sufficient funds to cover the maintenance cost. (Again, you should be reminded of the person who has only enough cash for the car payments and not enough for car maintenance—you can put off the maintenance for a while, but not forever.)

-7. What are e-learning standards and why should you care about them?

- E-learning standards are important because they will enable different parts from different vendors to work together.

- E-learning standards are still emerging.

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Standards are important so that things you buy from different vendors or at different times can all work together.

Think of standards like this: All Lego toys are made with the same standard-size hole so they all fit together. Electrical outlets are a standard size so that the plug fits whether you're plugging in a TV or a toaster. (Although travelers are sometimes surprised to find out that this standardization is not worldwide.)

In short, standards make it possible to interoperate and integrate. That should help you feel confident that, if your LMS from vendor A is compliant to the same standards as the series of e-learning courses you're getting from vendor B, there's a good chance that the courses will work with the LMS.

There are a number of standards that apply to e-learning, and they have acronyms to identify them like AICC (aicc.org) and SCORM (adlnet.org/Scorm/scorm.cfm). It really doesn't make sense for you as a businessperson to try to get a deep technical understanding of these standards. Any reputable e-learning vendor will be able to tell you about the standards and tell you which standards that vendor follows.

Perhaps the most important thing to say about e-learning standards is that they are still emerging. So don't be surprised if even the most reputable e-learning vendors don't follow all the standards. It's a moving target at the moment.

Summary

- You can buy e-learning courseware ready-made (off-the-shelf).

- Or you can develop it yourself (or pay someone to build it for you). This is the custom-built approach.

- You can feel confident in doing informal training without professional instructional design. But if you're after formal training, you're making a big mistake if you really don't know how to make an instructionally sound course.

- An LMS helps you manage complexity. It handles the administrative tasks for e-learning: things like tracking students, enrolling students, etc. That administrative end can become very complex if you have hundreds of courses and hundreds of students to manage.

- An LMS will automate the handling of:

- Course catalog

- Course delivery

- Student enrollment and tracking

- Assessments and quizzes

- You need an LMS when managing your e-learning system starts to become complex.

- LMSs are not all the same. They come in simpler versions and in more complex versions. In the same way, all automobiles are not the same. Almost all LMS systems will have a similar set of "core functions." Some will have selected extended functionality that make it easier to manage certain aspects of a complete e-learning environment.

- Follow these steps when implementing your e-learning

system:

- Figure out what you need e-learning for.

- Get the system set up on a small scale.

- Communicate to the students.

- Deliver the training.

- See if it really works in your environment.

- Expand the scale.

- You have to maintain your e-learning system so it stays fresh. You have to keep courseware up-to-date, keep student access authorizations up-to-date, and periodically upgrade system hardware and software.

- E-learning standards are important because they will enable different parts from different vendors to work together.

- E-learning standards are still emerging.

 
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