A question of standards
by Clive Shepherd
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.
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.
IITT has standards
we need standards
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.
Note: You can view the IITT's technology-based training standards and competency frameworks on their web site, www.iitt.org.uk.