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The ROI of e-learning

Production tools allow in-house content development. In-house content production includes repurposing existing classroom content for online use and authoring new content specifically for e-learning. A potpourri of Sharable Content Object Reference Model (SCORM)-conformant authoring tools provides e-learning authors flexibility in the depth and variety of content they can create. Those include the easy-to-use, rapid e-learning development tools and the more traditional tools that require more in-depth knowledge and authoring experience.

Another cost occurs when content vendors provide off-the-shelf e-learning content that organizations license on a yearly or multiyear basis. Generally, organizations choose to license libraries of content like IT, business skills or desktop skills. They decide how many employees will access specific libraries and contract for that number of users. Those vendors also provide customizable print materials, mentoring and the ability to customize some of the e-learning course components.

Organizations engage a custom e-learning content development company for courses with content features beyond their in-house staff capabilities, courses that require more advanced tools for activities like simulations and branching, or learning that requires extensive concept development and course execution. Custom content organizations have creative architects, instructional designers and content developers highly skilled in planning and developing learning experiences.

Typical learning staff members include titles like learning and development director, online trainer, curriculum writer, instructional designer, Web designer and developer, graphic design specialist and LMS administrator. Some of those positions will be new hires; others will be role changes for existing learning staff. For example, some classroom instructors may develop skills as virtual classroom instructors. Especially in an organization with some decentralized learning, a learning specialist may become a consultant assisting lines of business in planning their e-learning.

Help desk staff must also be knowledgeable and ready to assist users. User assistance is generally the responsibility of specific employees within the organization’s help desk. Learning directors must ensure those employees are well trained on the applications and tools. During the initial weeks of the rollout, ensure that those LMS help desk people are available during extended hours to allow easy access to help for employees. The help desk should prepare FAQs to post online with the most frequently asked questions and prepare other do-it-yourself troubleshooting aids.

And, the creation of an e-learning culture is critical to success. Special informational and rollout programs determine the success of getting employee buy-in to e-learning. Involve internal marketing people to create LMS awareness during the program planning and launch. Create "traveling road shows" where employees can use the application, ask questions and begin to understand what an LMS is, why it’s important to the business and how to use it effectively. Give employees opportunities to participate in pilots and give feedback. Finally, continue providing assistance and the latest information after the rollout.

Risk analysis

No change—or avoidance of change—is without risk. Factoring that uncertainty into the analysis converts an optimistic and potentially unachievable plan into one with higher accuracy. It is helpful to refine initial estimates by factoring in three key risks.

The first is maintaining a strong relationship with vendors. Because of the SaaS deployment, the LMS and the virtual classroom implementations are significantly easier than installed applications. However, maintain strong relationships with the vendors and address any application issues immediately. Ensure that vendors provide adequate support for learners who may struggle with issues of system uptime, ease of use and access to course content.

The next risk is managing the high startup costs. The SaaS LMS is a predictable yearly cost so the upfront cost of the LMS and virtual classroom technology is not as significant as installed applications. However, the organization must hire new staff and retrain some existing staff to mentor learners, develop e-learning content and teach online. The organization must purchase new authoring tools or upgrade existing ones for content development. Communication messages must start before the applications are launched and continue during the implementation until the technology becomes an integrated part of employees’ daily work.

And the last is ensuring excellent, engaging content. Both repurposed and new e-learning content must provide engaging learner experiences. The statement "content is king" is true. You may have wonderful technology but without excellent content, e-learning fails. Spend the time to repurpose classroom content with graphics and activities appropriate to the objectives and expect that the e-learning course will look very different from the classroom version. Carefully select off-the-shelf content. From some vendors, you will select libraries; from other vendors, you will select individual courses. Preview those to make sure they fit with your objectives and are well done.

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