e-Learning Part 2: Getting on the Right Track with Upfront Needs Analysis

In my last post, I discussed the steps an organization should take to begin identifying the type of e-Learning program they need. Once you have determined the type of training that is right for your organization, you can begin to analyze your content further to understand the level of re-purposing necessary for an effective e-Learning initiative. This analysis is conducted to determine compatibility of existing content and legacy course ware with e-Learning delivery methods (not all content lends itself well to e-Learning delivery!) In this step of your path to e-Learning, an instructional designer analyzes the organization’s course content to determine the appropriate delivery methods to:
  • Optimize learning transfer and retention
  • Reduce training costs
  • Expand learner population through increased accessibility, and
  • Create on-demand training programs.
Why all the analysis? Although many organizations cite an interest in offering e-Learning and believe it can add value to their overall training strategy, many fail in the execution stages due to inadequate front-end analysis. Optimal e-Learning design takes the following inputs into consideration:
  • Gaps between current training and performance requirements
  • Level of learning desired to ensure learner retention
  • Best delivery types for each course
  • Costs related to design, development, and deployment
  • Time-to-market requirement
  • Technological capabilities and resources available to support the delivery

An organization that fully understands each of these inputs as it pertains to their particular needs can more accurately identify their e-Learning environment and resource needs and thus establish a path to develop an e-Learning program that provides a substantial return on investment. Once this analysis is completed, the organization is prepared for the subsequent development phases.

What is learner retention about and how does it impact delivery decisions? Understanding the importance of learner retention is a critical consideration in designing effective e-Learning. Learner retention is the extent to which learners remember what they have learned and can transfer those skills to their work or life. The design of e-Learning is driven by the learning or performance objectives. Utilizing Bloom’s taxonomy, if the learner is required to perform higher levels of cognition such as application, analysis, synthesis, or evaluation then the instructional content should require the learner to perform these tasks within the content. The following table demonstrates the relationship between cognition levels and delivery types:

 

Level of Cognition Description Delivery Types Examples
Knowledge Observation and recall of information Instructor-Led LectureInstructor AssistComputer Text/GraphicsJob Aids/Training GuidesDiscussion Boards Recordings Online Discussion Groups e-Book Broadcast
Comprehension Interpret facts, compare, contrast, grasp meaning Lecture/WBT content followed by instructor/ learner DiscussionOnline discussion board postingsCase study"Drag and drop" exercisesEssay questions Online discussion groups
Application Use methods, concepts, theories in new situations; solve problems using required skills or knowledge Case StudiesLab exercisesSimulationOn-the-job observationVideo observation in which correct application must be identified Essay questions
Analysis Recognize patterns; Identify components Lab exercisesSimulationEssay questionsCase Studies
Synthesis Use old ideas and create new ones; Generalize from given facts; Predict, draw conclusions Essay QuestionsResearch Problem/ReportSimulationE-Class projects
Evaluation Debate a concept; Judge and/or predict a problem Essay QuestionsResearch Problem/ReportE-Class projectsDebates through discussion boards

 

Mapping delivery methods to learning retention given the realities of your organization When transitioning content, I always recommend that you find an experienced instructional designer to analyze legacy content prior to transitioning it to e-Learning. An instructional designer will conduct a high-level analysis of the organization’s legacy learning objectives (for each course) and supporting materials. They will then determine which courses lend themselves to an e-Learning environment. Once this is determined, the instructional designer will analyze the courses identified for e-Learning at a higher level of granularity, assessing each learning objective to determine the appropriate delivery method to maximize learner retention. The cost of development for each delivery method varies greatly due to the amount of time and expertise it takes to develop.High e-Learning development costs are associated with flash video and simulations to enable learners to use higher cognitive levels including application, analysis, synthesis, and evaluation.If these types of delivery methods/costs are outside the institution’s business model, then there are delivery methods that can be utilized to encourage higher levels of cognition, but keep development costs down. It should be noted that although initial costs are high, the costs of delivering self-paced training over an extended period of time are low by only requiring the organization to revise the training modules when necessary. Once the organization has identified which courses can be transitioned to e-Learning and what delivery types to use to maximize learner retention, the organization can begin conducting due-diligence on learning platforms to deliver content.

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