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Strap on Your Boots to Address e-Learning Technical Challenges

Angel Greenby , instructional strategist

By nature, I am the type of person who loves finding solutions to problems. When faced with a challenge, I typically don't spend too much time analyzing; I prefer to just strap on my boots and get the job done. In my work this attitude has, at times, left me feeling on top of the world (when a solution is a success) and utterly defeated (when the solution is rejected or worse yet, fails).

So when we asked for your top e-learning challenges and the responses started pouring in, I immediately felt the familiar desire of playing "little miss fix it", finding solutions to each challenge faced by our readers.

BootsAt first I was downtrodden by the amount of challenges you all face. I'm certainly not professing that we have a solution for all of these, but what can we do as an industry to strap on our boots and get the job done?

While evaluating all of your comments (not just those selected for inclusion in our last blog), some recurring themes surfaced:

  • Technical challenges
  • Content challenges
  • Subject Matter Experts/Stakeholder challenges
  • Design challenges

Today, let's start with the Technical Challenges. In looking through the responses, there are two main issues with technology:

  1. Infrastructure/Network
  2. Learning Management Systems 

First, let’s talk about the challenge of Infrastructure/Network.

JD Dillion commented about: "Inconsistent performance/availability of implementation technology (and an IT department that can't/doesn't want to take the time to research and answer relevant questions)."  

YES! I agree and have faced (and continue to face) this same challenge both when I was an internal member of an L&D team and now as a vendor working with external clients. Technology and deployment of e-learning can be quite tricky.

Before developing a single piece of a course, it is my advice to make nice with the IT department. When involved in a project from the start, rather than at the end, it feels like more of a partnership and less of a "demand" for their assistance. Find the appropriate IT contact and say, "We've been tasked with creating an e-learning course that will utilize network resources and will need to run on all machines in a uniform fashion. We want to ensure we do this the right way. We are coming to you for your help and guidance." 

But-and this is an important step -- do your homework. They are likely going to ask for the minimum technical specifications necessary (Flash player, sound cards, media player, etc.) to run the course you develop. Have that information in your back pocket, but don't lead with it.

Next, Learning Management Systems.  There are several challenges you may face including not having one or being limited on what you can track/report versus what you want to track. 

The absence of an LMS shouldn't keep you from developing and deploying e-learning. While it's true that tracking completion is a very important requirement for some courses, (compliance and CEUs for example) is it really a requirement for all courses? 

I can relate to your pain upon hearing that statement. Of course, the stakeholders will want to make sure that people are actually taking the e-learning that has been developed. But, if you've done a good job at creating a course that is motivational and helps employee do their job better, they'll want to complete training. Imagine that! See if you can argue the case for allowing learners the freedom to take the course(s) at will.

When tracking is non-negotiable, look to cloud-based Learning Management Systems or alternate methods of tracking completion; the old workaround of having learners PDF a copy of their certificate of completion and e-mail it to a dedicated inbox may suffice.

Being limited on what you can track versus what you want to track is becoming a more frequent complaint among our clients. Since learning activities may be housed outside of a traditional e-learning course, Learning Management Systems may be unable to track these.  In blended learning initiatives there may be mobile applications, videos, message boards, PDF readings, and even document creation that learners have to do prior to getting credit for completion. If tracking is a must, there may be viable workarounds; you just have to think outside of the box.

Recently, we developed a SCORM based "course" with the primary objective being to track progress in a blended curriculum. Each page of the course had a list of events related to outside activities. Using simple check boxes, learners could keep track of their activities. We utilized bookmarking to save progress. Each day, learners could launch this course and check off what they had done for the day.  When they reached the end of the course, they had completed the curriculum!

Another new development in the world of SCORM is the Tin Can API. Tin Can allows Learning Management Systems to track anything. It's really groundbreaking and I encourage you to take some time to explore the documentation on how this may meet your tracking needs.

So, what words of wisdom do you have regarding overcoming the technical challenges we face as an industry? What has worked for you??