Until recently, the technical part of e-learning was considerably over-valued. As a result, technical opportunities developed rapidly. But all too often, the human being participating in the training was forgotten. As a result, we often see two extremes:
- The contents of printed text books are transferred unchanged to electronic media. This simple porting of printed content does not take advantage of the opportunities offered by new media. As a result, the participant may quickly become bored and unmotivated.
- The opportunities offered by new media, such as audio, video or 3D-animation are used extensively, but didactic concepts are ignored. Participants lose their overview of the information, and the content structure remains a mystery.
But multimedia, hypermedia or rich media alone do not make a learning environment. Education and teaching methods must form the basis for e-learning as well, and technology must take on a secondary role. Educational expertise must be transferred to the new learning media, and adapted and applied to the new situation and opportunities. Here, too, it is essential to define goals for learning and a didactic approach. Finding out more about training participants and their prior knowledge creates a solid base for a successful learning process. Another decisive factor determining the success of the training measures how the subject matter is personalized.
Lessons without national borders
Companies must integrate the learning applications into their structures and processes and adapt them to the learning and teaching options for their employees. Those that use e-learning and knowledge management widely should establish a new corporate culture of knowledge sharing and information dissemination to motivate employees to take advantage of these opportunities and contribute their own knowledge. The learning and teaching options are part of a company-wide skills management, that is, a program that encourages employees to obtain new skills and qualifications appropriate to the company.
A difficult but important problem relates to the transferability of content and qualifications across national borders. First, the different countries have their own methods and culture for learning, as well as their own languages. It is therefore not enough to simply translate the learning applications. Rather, they must be adapted to specific social and cultural situations. Second, the educational systems and therefore the structures for qualifications differ from country to country. It does not make sense to have an educational program valid across all countries if the qualifications and certificates are not recognized everywhere in Europe. The EU has taken the first step here with the European Professional Profiles, the EUROPASS and the ECTS credit transfer system for higher education establishments, although the latter has not yet been implemented in all countries. These measures document education and training, and enable applicants’ skills to be assessed more easily.
Search for total solutions
Economic factors must also be taken into consideration, and there must be a healthy relationship between cost and benefit in e-learning. However, the direct benefit of measures such as these is very difficult to prove. Therefore, the costs for e-learning are often compared with those for traditional learning activities, such as the classical group training. Experience has shown that the highest proportion of costs for e-learning is generated by the creation of learning material, which involves the often complex multimedia arrangement and intensive preliminary, editorial work. Because of the high costs for the complex production and maintenance of content, e-learning applications have mainly become established in large companies, where the investments can be distributed more easily over a higher number of training participants. One reason e-learning has been less accepted – particularly by small and medium-size business – is the proprietary systems. These prevent the exchange and recycling of existing content in new or changed learning programs. As a rule, the content is prepared for a specific subject and a particular target group. A lack of modularity and standardization prevents the content from being used on a wider scale, with parts being replaced where necessary.
To achieve greater usability on the basis of a cross-company, decentralized infrastructure, the content and all other information in the learning process should be completely standardized and defined. A number of organizations and standardization committees, such as CEN/ISSS (European Committee for Standardization, Information Society Standardization System) or DIN (German Institute for Standardization) are conducting activities that work towards this aim. However, the different interests represented by the organizations and companies within the committees have made the coordination process difficult.
At the moment, the market for e-learning is roughly divided into content creators, assessment and evaluation systems, communication and collaboration systems, and learning management systems and platforms. Only a few providers cover three or more of these areas. As a result, total solutions are hardly possible because of the lack of standardized interfaces. E-learning will only reveal its full potential when the industry fully supports defined interfaces between systems from different manufacturers and a standardized description of these systems.
It could then be possible to have a free market of knowledge. Courses and educational programs from a wide variety of providers could then be selected and accessed from every workplace or home. Employees could participate in training courses on the other side of the world. A completely integrated infrastructure is required for such a knowledge marketplace. This infrastructure would contain rival products from public and private educational establishments and providers. The reuse, replacement, and supplementing of content between companies and organizations on a regional, national, and international level would be possible. However, an infrastructure such as this will only work if the economic framework is right. E-learning can only work on a broad scale if technical, educational, organizational, political/cultural, and economic factors are taken into consideration.