E-learning: options for delivery
Busy professionals who want to get to an answer quickly are increasingly demanding informal learning options. "The emphasis in the work force now is on speed," points out Claire Schooley, senior analyst at Forrester Research. "The new generation of workers is used to having instant connectivity, whether it’s to information or experts, and they are completely comfortable with the software tools that bring this about." Such options as expertise location and collaboration are valuable enhancements to structured learning content.
Despite the growing popularity of hosted solutions, on-site implementations are still preferred by some organizations, especially when the solution is competitively priced. Prairie Hills School District 144 (http://phsd144.net) in suburban Chicago was looking for an e-learning product that could deliver both pre-packaged and custom-developed content for its 250 teachers and paraprofessionals. IntraLearn Software offered an affordable e-learning platform suite that met the needs of Prairie Hills, and the school district is now in the process of rolling it out.
IntraLearn’s LearningServer for .Net platform is based on the Microsoft .NET framework. As a user of Microsoft SharePoint, Prairie Hills is able to leverage its existing infrastructure, including the active directory, so that new roles and permissions do not have to be created for its learners.
"We will be offering computer courseware for MS Office 2003 and 2007 and for Adobe," says Juanita McWilliams, database administrator for Prairie Hills School District. "We will also provide courses in management and office skills for people in leadership positions." The next step will be to train users in how to register and take courses.
Over time, Prairie Hills hopes to include content beyond the initial courseware. "We plan to create and store audio recordings from in-house professional training," McWilliams adds, "and we would also be able to store and reuse the associated handouts." Some video clips may also be provided for future viewing. By having all the content in SharePoint, Prairie Hills could facilitate the search process for users seeking to expand their knowledge on a subject.
The original philosophy of IntraLearn was to have the learning content stored in a general-purpose content management system rather than in a specialized learning content management system (LCMS). "We switched from the Microsoft SQL database to SharePoint four years ago because we felt the technology was mature and could manage the content effectively," says Jerry Goguen, CEO of IntraLearn.
SharePoint has its own search engine, but IntraLearn has created a search tool that converts the search terms into an SQL query for more precision. In addition, IntraLearn customers can make use of the collaboration capabilities offered by SharePoint.
The next version of LearningServer for .Net will have presence detection. "Users can bring up Messenger and ask a question from within the context of the courseware," says Goguen, giving them something beyond what an LCMS would offer."