Technology's Impact on E-Learning
This article was first published in Learning Circuits, A journal of the American Society for Training & Development (ASTD) in December 2003.
The fourth critical success factor to creating effective, online learning environments is useable and accessible technology. However, useable and accessible technology means more than a system that operates. It requires technology that works efficiently, access to support tools, and programs that are designed to effectively use the technology. More important, designers and developers must orient learners to the new environment.
Mastering the technology
The first obstacle seems easy to remedy: make sure that each learner's set up works. Typically, training managers send out hardware and software specifications to learners, such as RAM, bandwidth, operating system requirements, and so forth. While this information is useful to the technical support contact, it generally doesn't help the end user. To assist the end user, offer tips on how to test the software or system to see whether it meets the minimum requirements. For example, if a sound card and speakers are required, link them to a Website that has sound. Another way you can assist users is to send them a set of questions that they can use to communicate with their help desk, including
Once the learner verifies that minimal technical requirements are met, be sure to provide contact information (phone number and email) for technical problems, such as password issues, system crashes, and so forth. Also, remind users to have a print copy of instructions handy because it won't help to have the information in their computer if is shuts down.
Lastly, it's critical that learners test their machines well ahead of any scheduled online activity. Too often, the first clue that a machine isn't responding appropriately, is when they sit down to complete their assignment or attend the program. Typically, this is too late to resolve the issue and results in a frustrating learning experience that leaves a lasting impact.
Prepare the learners
Enter the learning orientation program. Use the synchronous classroom to manage this process, and offer orientation to learners on a regular basis. During the program, give participants permission to be frustrated and ask them to share their dissatisfaction during class. You want to alleviate their aggravation here, and not let it carry over to content-oriented programs.
In this orientation, consider including the following items:
Also, it's a good idea to ask the IT support team to participate in online orientations and events so that they understand the environment they need to support. This insider experience may make them more empathetic to the time-is-of-the-essence pressure the learner faces.
Tone down the bells and whistles
Likewise, the instructor should participate in program development as well. For example, before the instructional designer decides to use a self-directed multimedia tutorial, he or she should participate in courses that use the same format in order to identify best practices in exercise design, screen design, and navigation. Also, programmers, instructional designers, and instructors should attend live events (or watch recordings of live events) to fully understand the learner experience.
To be sure, technology expands our ability to disseminate learning across our organizations. But no matter how popular the latest tool or technology, keep in mind that our mission is to build well designed programs that effectively meet performance objectives. Ensuring the effective use of technology for the learning environment, lays the groundwork for creating online programs that are as effective (dare I say, more effective?) than traditional training events.
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 2.5 License.
This work is licensed under a  Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 United States License