click here for the features menu
spacer
spacer
A question of standards
spacer
by Clive Shepherd
spacer
spacer
It's all too easy to set yourself up as an e-learning developer, provider or tutor and, let's face it, the temptations are huge. E-learning provides the best hope yet for trainers to have a real influence on their organisation and opportunities abound for exciting new careers and businesses. But some order needs to be established in the goldrush territories, to protect  e-learning consumers from the cowboys and to provide some guidance to practitioners and purveyors. In this article, Clive Shepherd explains why e-learning standards provide us, not with a stick with which to beat transgressors, but with a carrot that can encourage excellence.

Contents
spacer
Opportunities and threats
The IITT has standards
Why we need standards

Opportunities and threats
spacer
As the e-business bandwagon rolls on remorselessly, crushing traditional businesses and conventional ideas of shareholder value in its path, another, mini-bandwagon is towed along behind, sharing in the applause and revelling in the space that its bigger brother has cleared. This mini-bandwagon is e-learning, once plain old online learning but now re-christened with the magical 'e'. And why is the 'e' so important? Because if you are a training manager, it provides you with a seat at the top table, and the ear of senior management. It might even mean that, just this once, your ambitious plans for a new training strategy will be taken seriously and adequately funded. Miss the chance and it may never come again.

The rush to jump on the 'e' bandwagon and harness the potential benefits of e-learning has caught all but a few unawares (the few being those, myself included, who've been espousing the cause of technology-based training for more years than I'd care to mention). On all fronts there is a great upsurge of energy, creativity and activity. What there's a shortage of are skills and experience. 
spacer
Contents

The IITT has standards
spacer
Institutes only really exist to ensure and encourage standards and the Institute of IT Training (IITT) is no exception. They recognised back in 1998, when large quantities of web-based learning products - mainly in the IT training arena - started to appear on the market, that quality was variable, to say the least. They wanted to ensure that their members' initial e-learning experience was a good one and that organisations would give this new technology the attention it deserved. To achieve this, the IITT created:

  • a code of practice for e-learning providers
  • standards for e-learning materials
  • competency frameworks for e-learning developers and online tutors

Contents

Why we need standards
spacer
We need a code of practice for providers because the Web is a great leveller, and a glossy web site can mask a second rate supplier of dodgy products. It's all too easy to create a learning portal (at last count more there's more than a hundred, so it can't be that difficult) and stock it with all the online materials you can lay your hands on. Quantity is everything. One colleague of mine used an authoring tool, built-in to a learning portal, to create a one-line course. He was just playing. A press release from the portal to the US financial press reported this so-called course as a new addition to its library! You might have been a little disappointed if you'd purchased it. Luckily some portals are putting quality first. Both Futuremedia's easycando.com and the University for Industry's LearnDirect, are only including content that is IITT accredited.

We also need standards for e-learning materials, because anyone with a copy of FrontPage and a clip art library can knock up an e-learning product in a matter of hours and some people are doing just that. Don't get me wrong, great products have come from trainers with limited resources and will continue to do so. Standards are not a stick with which to beat budding developers and ensure the contracts go to the major publishers. Standards provide a target to aim at, a benchmark. If you reach those standards then your products can be bought with confidence by any organisation, often at the expense of a more established competitor. Well-designed standards should not inhibit creativity or restrict the pedagogical approach. They just ensure usability, reliability and the basic ingredients necessary to any successful learning.

We also need competency frameworks for e-learning practitioners. It's understandable that many training managers will aim to fill the positions required in their e-learning teams by moving over existing trainers, many of who will have spent a lifetime in the classroom. However, e-learning development is a very different proposition. True, training skills are valuable, but the role is primarily an analytical one, requiring attention to detail, not to mention some technical prowess. Ideal candidates are those with an experience of learning design, enthusiasm for technology and an open mind.

Many organisations are discovering the importance of backing up online self-study with tutorial support. The new 'online tutor' can be asked to perform the roles of coach, subject-expert, administrator and assessor. What the tutor is unlikely to do much of is present information, so trainers who are used to standing up front and spouting forth will not find the position to their liking (or their students'). An effective online tutor is likely to be well-organised, computer-literate, learner-centred and easy to get on with. They also have to accept that they may never meet their students face-to-face and may only ever communicate in text.

There is no shortage of clever, imaginative and likeable people, capable of making a good job of e-learning development and online tutoring. They may come from a variety of backgrounds - training, education, technical writing, IT, multimedia or somewhere completely unexpected. What these people need is training, online or otherwise, to help them meet the expectations of a new generation of e-learners. The standards and competency frameworks that form the basis of this training are new and subject to continuous improvement. But at least those leading the way will be merely starry-eyed and not as blind as those that follow.
spacer
Contents

Note: You can view the IITT's technology-based training standards and competency frameworks on their web site, www.iitt.org.uk.

click here for the features menu

2000 Fastrak Consulting Ltd All rights reserved