Elearning and evaluation

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Written by Richard Griffin on 13 November 2013

I have not written much about elearning in these blogs. Given it's the fastest area of growth in education and training provision, over a third of all training in the US is now virtual, I am a bit surprised with myself. As it happens I am presently involved in two separate course development projects involving a significant amount of elearning. One is an induction programme, the other is for care professionals and is aimed at improving end of life care.

From an evaluation point of view, I don't think elearning poses too many novel issues compared to any other form of learning (although you may disagree). Through evaluation we can see whether people have (e) learnt and what they have done with that learning. This is no different to any other programme evaluation (so long as we remember that just because someone logs on to an elearning platform that does not automatically mean that they have learnt anything).

However, there is an extra dimension that evaluation can bring to evaluation is assessing whether the learner, the learning and organisation are elearning ready. Generally speaking I don't think we do enough assessments of learning readiness. With virtual learning I think it's particularly important. Research has found a link between learners' belief in their ability to master elearning and positive training outcomes. Not everyone is technology savvy. Elearning also requires learners to be particularly motivated and engaged. Evaluation can tell us the extent to which a group of learners are able to use the technology and what technology they prefer.

The rush to elearning is underpinned by two assumptions. One is that it is cheaper than conventional forms of learning and two that all learning can potentially be delivered virtually. In reality, elearning can deliver savings but there are also lot of costs, some hidden, associated with it (like ongoing technical support). Poor completion rates, a bit of a feature with elearning, mean 'attrition' rates and opportunity costs can be high. On the second assumption, some skills, particularly soft ones, are better taught face-to-face. Elearning can help, but only to a point.

Elearning also needs a supportive organisation to be effective. We are likely to be developing mobile phone accessible modules on both the programmes am part of. One organisation has a 'no mobile' phone policy. That will have to change and managers will need to get use to the fact that their staff are spending time at work looking at their phone, not to catch up with the latest sports news but to learn. Evaluation can help assess whether an organisation is elearning ready or not. There seem to be quite a few elearning readiness tools out there but I am not sure to what extent they are quality assured.

By the way, a recent academic literature review of the factors that support effective elearning suggests, in addition to supportive organisational culture and processes, that the following are needed:

1.Early dialogue with learners and interaction while they learn (perhaps through discussion groups)

2. A quality learning environment

3. Content that meets the needs of learners and that they can relate to their work

4. Rapid reporting back of assessments and scores

While we have been using computers since the 1950s to help us learn, the pedagogy and technology is still new and developing, albeit rapidly. We have moved from slides and notes simply being uploaded onto websites to 'gameification' of learning (a term so new my tablet spell checker does not recognise it).

I think I shall be writing a lot more about elearning.

About the author
Richard Griffin is director of the Institute of Vocational Learning and Workplace Research at Buckinghamshire New University. He can be contacted at: Richard.Griffin@bucks.ac.uk

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