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Adapting for online delivery; selecting the right technology

It goes without saying that whatever technolgies are used, they have to be effective training tools. Previous Updaters have detailed how to determine the profile of the learner and what the training is designed to achieve, you're now in a good position to make an effective decision on appropriate technologies.

The most common difficulty is in balancing operational issues and a need to use existing structures, against the particular needs of the learners. The sorts of operational pressures often encountered include:
- Competing budgetary constraints. Often developmental initiatives compete with other 'special' projects in an environment of reduced and uncertain funding.
- Organisation wide change. Significant as the spread of elearning is, it still must integrate with other organisational change issues such as restructuring and the internationalisation of education.
- Institution-wide IT systems. Often, existing IT systems were originally designed to support the administration of organisations, rather than the provision of training. Where delivery software is purchased, the decision is often based on cost and ease of integration within existing systems.
- The development of courses has traditionally been seen as one part of the job of lecturers rainers. 'Getting a course going' was something that educators did as part of their wider delivery role. It sometimes demanded additional resourcing, which was negotiated as part of annual workload. As such, it was a cost to be minimised.
- Time pressure. Pre-determined course start dates often dictate small development timeframes.

1. Select the delivery tool.
Relevant factors here are:
- The existence of legacy systems such as generic online delivery tools
- The 'best fit' for existing course resources, with a focus on minimising the adaption process. For example, online availability of PDF documents generated from presentation materials.
- Lowest implementation cost.
- Minimising the need for staff training or upskilling in order to implement delivery.

2. 'Path of least resistance' development.
Collate existing resources (usually print) and adapt for online/distance delivery.

3. Supplement the core.
Provide communication, support or learner feedback to the extent permitted by timeframes and budgetary constraints.

Adopting such a model involves running a number of risks. Many of the elements that make up effective face to face instruction are not readily adapted from course resources. For example:
- Much of the actual content is often in the head of the presenter, not on paper.
- The role of a presenter as motivator can be missed in the adaption process.
- The ability to provide immediate feedback to learner's concerns or problems is part of the face to face environment. Elearning often involves delays in providing feedback. Good online delivery will address this issue by developing extensive feedback resources that are immediately available to learners.
- Much of the value in face to face learning is derived from the types of activities and interaction that takes place. Simply adapting resources does not necessarily result in learning activities or the level of interactive engagement that brings about deeper learning.

Working from existing resources also means that alternative resources and activities are often not included in the design of the course, so much as tacked on the end. For example, existing Internet resources are often listed as background material; learners are invited to go beyond the structured course resources if they choose to. Such an approach misses the opportunity to broaden the depth of learning available through existing online resources. Designing the learning process to incorporate such resources allows more effective use to be made of them.

The issue then is about selecting the appropriate technologies for the learners and training objectives. The respective advantages of core technologies can be summarised as:

1. Internet resources
- Provides access to training in a range of situations that learners might otherwise not be able to study in.
- Less suitable for modelling verbal skills or physical behaviours.
- Facilitates communication between students and tutors at a distance.
- Limited ability to provide feedback on behaviours (e.g. practical presentation skills)
- Provides access to current worldwide resources.
- Less interactivity/depth of learning experience than multimedia.

2. Multimedia resources
- Makes available a wide range of learning resources and realia
- More complicated to access 'live' and update.
- Incorporates a range of activities that stimulate and motivate learning.
- Generally more involved development process

3. Print resources
- Provides a permanent record
- Difficult to update.
- More transportable and can be used in a wider range of situations.
- Costly to distribute

Don't assume that only one resource type should be used. Well designed customised training solutions will often combine a range of resources that, packaged together, provide a learning experience that draws on the strength of each one. For an example of training that combines multimedia, internet and print based resources, see, a course in study skills preparing learners for University ertiary level study.

About the Author
Phil has been involved in a number of projects in the field of flexible delivery, both research based and product-based.