Monday, February 11, 2008

E-learning for Engineers

On Wednesday I am taking part in a free workshop on How to write a business case for e-learning, sponsored by the Australian Flexible Learning Framework. Australian Governments are handing out $15 million to help business do e-learning. As part of the workshop, each participant is asked to complete an online learning module and do some research. I chose to look at elelctronic learning for engineering, as this is closest to my interest in e-learning for ICT professionals.

Provided for the workshop is a learning module "
How to write a business case for e-learning online learning module". Unfortunately I was not able to read the text in the e-learning module as it is too small and I was not able to enlarge the text. There is a Text Alternative provided in PDF, which was readable, but does not seem to have the same functionality as the Flash version.

The how to covers in readable (assuming you can see it) language:
  1. What is a business case?
  2. Executive Summary-Strategic relevance and value of your project
  3. Description of initiative-Project specific information
  4. Options-Benefits and repercussions if not supported
  5. Options-High level cost/benefit
  6. Risk strategy
  7. Implementation Strategy-Milestones
Also provided is a "Practical guide to e-learning for industry". This is perhaps a little too detailed, and at 157 pages might scare off the average business person, but it is comprehensive:
  1. Understanding e-learning
  2. Deciding about e-learning
  3. Preparing for e-learning
  4. Funding e-learning
  5. Managing e-learning
  6. Designing e-learning
  7. Producing e-learning
  8. Testing and evaluation of e-learning
  9. Delivering e-learning
  10. Future trends
The biggest problem with the practical guide is the too-clever-for-its-own-good e-learning map. This is in the form of a schematic diagram popularized by the map of the London Underground. The diagram shows the steps in producing e-learning represented as stations on a railway line, with different routes marked out as rail lines. It took me some time to work out that this was more than just a static diagram, as there are no hypertext links marked. You need to wave your cursor around to discover that there are links on some text. Unfortunately I couldn't work out exactly what was intended by the different routes (perhaps I need more familiarity with the London Underground). Also it is disconcerting that some of the text on the bottom of the screen disappears when you move the cursor towards it. This does not appear to be a good example of e-learning and is likely to put off those considering using it.

Fortunately the PDF and text versions of the practical guide were more readable, but not without problems. As an example, the instructions for the workshop asked me to investigate the resources found in the guide. But when I looked at the table of contents for the text version of the guide, the text "resources" does not occur at all. This was perplexing until I looked right down the bottom and found an image which says "Resources". While this image has an ALT text label with "List of Resources", the web browser does not find this. Even after this heading is found, there are no contents under it. The word "resources" occurs 47 times in the text of the PDF version, but there appears to be no section devoted to it.

Some Australian business groups have already been funded to develop business cases and these are available online. For the workshop I selected the "Engineering Employers Association Group Training Scheme (EEAGTS) Business case for a 2007 Industry e-learning demonstration (April 2007). This was for training in System Control and Data Acquisition ( SCADA) and Advanced Manufacturing Intelligence Systems (MIS). They use a fictional company to illustrate the benefits of the technology and what is claimed to be a real factory to provide production data to be used by the students. The proposal seems to be to use simulation, role playing and an online tutorial.

The business case seems to do a reasonable job of showing the need for such courses, but there did not appear to be any details of what alternatives there were, risks or what the project would cost. In particular the use of Digital video for the "mini-factory" (simulation?) seems technically risky and something where costs may escalate.