The growth in online e-learning and wireless technology opens the door for 'anywhere, anytime' training. By Melissa Wilkinson
Imagine learning how to bake bread simply with the aid of a mobile phone. To address the shortage of skilled bakers in Australia, baking chain Bakers Delight has partnered with the Hunter Institute of TAFE to develop a fast-track 12-month bakery trades course delivered entirely through wireless technology. This is just one of the different ways that e-learning is changing the shape of workplace learning.
According to Gary Sewell, Head Teacher of Baking at the Hunter Institute, the course was developed because young apprentices had trouble leaving their workplaces to attend face-to-face training sessions.
"We modified the Certificate III in Baking course so that it could be delivered online using mobile technology such as mobile phones and personal digital assistants (PDAs). Students were also supported with an online portal with links to resources, videos, games and assessments. This move to e-learning has resulted in a marked increase in the numbers of students enrolling in bakery training," he says.
Under the Department of Employment, Training and Workplace Relations's definition, e-learning is simply the use of information and communication technology to deliver education and training.
It is an 'anywhere, anytime' mode of learning that is providing students with much greater levels of flexibility. Companies who have virtual workers or staff in diverse and remote locations are also turning to e-learning as a way to combat the costs associated with facilitated training.
Come of age
Mike Addicott, General Manager of online learning company TheCyberInstitute, a subsidiary of the Australian Institute of Management, says the e-learning industry has come of age in the past two years.
"It has evolved considerably because of improvements in technology and broadband access. The platforms are now more robust and the tools for delivering engaging e-learning are simply more accessible. Plus, many organisations today have a much better acceptance of the medium."
According to Addicott, the industry is still shaking off some of the legacy from the bad old days when e-learning was a dry, page-turning experience to largely educate workers on compliance-related matters. Today, e-learning offers a much richer and more collaborative experience for students.
It now includes a wide variety of different mediums including audio, animation, game play, podcasts, videos, and Web 2.0 tools including Facebook-style collaboration hubs and wikis.
"It is now much more focused on the needs of students and how they like content to be delivered," says Addicott. "Blended learning, where e-learning is combined with face-to-face training, is becoming a common type of workplace training.
"In many cases, students complete some prerequisite study online and then a trainer is asked in to build on the key learnings. After the training, students can be redirected to the e-learning site to reinforce the learnings with exercises, quizzes or games."
Graham Whelan, Chief Executive of Online Learning Australia and President of the Victorian E-learning Industry Association, says that while there's no strict rule of thumb for developing e-learning programs, one hour of customised training can cost anywhere from $10,000-$50,000, with an average of about $25,000.
"This estimate is to develop a tailored training program with a medium level of interaction. While it can be expensive up front, the benefit is that you can keep using it again and again. It's not the best solution for small businesses, who will find it cheaper to train their staff in the classroom. However, there are affordable off-the-shelf e-learning packages that can be used to train staff in self-paced training areas, such as compliance."
Clint Smith, President of the E-learning Network of Australasia, says that the relatively high investment costs involved are driving more organisations to partner with registered training organisations.
"Rather than set up all the platforms and systems yourself, a lot of companies are working with a training provider to share the resourcing. Companies are also finding that, like all change management, a new initiative such as e-learning needs support from the top.
"If a training program is introduced firm wide, it will need a champion and some internal marketing to be successful. It's not just a case of build it and they will come."