Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Barriers to Collaborative E-Learning

Collaborative E-Learning - it’s not a new concept, just one that has never been utilized effectively in the “Canadian” learning experience. Ycommunicate has worked with many government organizations across Canada developing a broad spectrum of unique healthcare related E-Learning projects and one theme seems come up continually when we answer questions, explain our development process or respond to RFPs. The focus is always on cost and technology.

Surprisingly, behavioral change or comprehension is generally not evaluated in the process of determining value in a collaborative E-Learning or any E-Learning project. As recently noted in a Higher Education Strategy Associates’ 2011 report, The State of E-Learning in Canadian Universities, “In Canada, universities have been implementing e-learning and purchasing virtual learning environment platforms such as Blackboard and Desire2Learn and so on. However in comparison to the United States, there has been less focus on cost-savings and almost no focus at all on outcomes.”

I guess I’m bias in many ways on this topic, in that we have focused a great deal of effort on developing E-Learning modules that are media rich and create an immersive e-learning experience. The objectives for E-learning are to inform and facilitate the retention of information and/or to change behaviour. Given that this is the most important outcome for any E-Learning module it is hard to understand how organizations can continue to focus solely on technical specifications or budgetary issues. I will try and address both of these issues individually.

Let’s tackle the technology issue first – most organizations, when deploying any communications technology must first prostrate themselves before the alter of the IT department, the guardians or technology and secure confidential communications. Often times as part of their mandate, the IT Department wants to manage, advise and otherwise control any technology process. Their first choice is often to buy a product and install it so that it can be managed. E-Learning product manufactures are only too happy to accommodate by bombarding organizations with many such products and reaping the long terms rewards in renewable licensing and product support. Given the fact that most administrators within organizations are not technical experts, they rely on the IT department to guide them through this decisions making process. The reality of the technology dilemma is that there is no need to purchase and install “an E-Learning product” as there are many solutions available now that are web based and offer easy management by organization of shared individual and group participation. For example ycommunicate has deployed an E-Learning environment for dozens of organizations and thousands of unique learners that has run without so much as one hour of down time in over 8 years and the best part is that no IT department is involved. The truth is that technology has not been a barrier in terms of cost or technology for the past 6 – 8 years as a result of a relatively mature technology, yet the focus remains on the technology rather than the results for E-Learning.

The second issue relates to the first in many ways. The very fact that the IT department is involved complicates the decisions making process and ultimately the time, effort and cost of implementing E-Learning. E-Learning also cuts across many disciplines within any organization and as such demands careful attention to detail and participation by many levels of an organization to ensure the efficacy of the content and this tends to drive up costs from both an internal and external perspective

While cost is always an important issue relating to any project, it is our thought that the cost of a project be linked directly to the goals of the E-Learning. Of course if the goals include behavioral change or demonstrated understanding of the content than it makes sense that budgets must reflect that. Defining a budget because that is what we have available” does not necessarily result in achieving your learning goals. Sometimes it is just better to wait and ensure that the project is designed to achieve your goals against measured learning outcomes.

Our E-Learning approach has always tried to consider, technology, cost and perhaps most importantly the collaborative nature of the experience. This is not a new approach - but perhaps it’s new to the marketplace. We call our approach Collaborative E-Learning. The term has been around and called Computer Supported Collaborative Learning (CSCL)for a few years but we first launched approach to E-Learning back in 2003.

In my next blog I will expand on out take on CSCL!

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