Wednesday, February 13, 2008

How to write a business case for e-learning without really trying

Today I took part in a free workshop on How to write a business case for e-learning, sponsored by the Australian Government. This was worthwhile and the Government is handing out various grants to encourage e-learning and has on-line resources to help.

I peddled across the Canberra CBD from ANU to the Canberra Institute of Technology, which only took ten minutes. CIT have an impressive campus at Reid, complete with a cafe which was just getting fresh muffins out of the oven. ;-)

The program was:

12.00 - Registration with arrival tea and coffee
12.30 - Part 2: Information session on Framework funding opportunities in 2008
(a) national funding for an Industry Integration of E-learning project
(b) state/territory funding for an E-learning Innovations project
13.40 - Afternoon Tea (20 mins)
14.00 - Part 1: PD Workshop - How to write a business case for e-learning (1.5hrs)
(Includes hearing from a previous industry e-learning demonstration)
15.30 - Event concludes

The program had been rearranged at short notice due to staff availability, but still worked out well. The first part was a slightly bewildering introduction to the Australian Flexible Learning Framework e-learning initiatives. Many of the people present were from TAFEs and were familiar with the terminology, I was less so. To add to the complexity, some of the initiatives are administered on a state by state basis. However, the introduction made it all reasonably clear.

There are many useful resources and tools about e-learning on the web site. Some of these which sound interesting are "The Knowledge Tree" E-learning Journal. There is a part of the web site for each state, such as ACT. There are professional development events held in the ACT on e-learning (confusingly called "
e-pd in the @CT"). CD-ROM of ARED software were handed out. This was used to create the online materials for the workshop. This was not a good advertisement as the materials for the workshop online were not particularly good. The online text was too small to read and the downloaded version was missing a link to some of the material need for the workshop. Also the Australian Flexible Learning Framework people seem to have a thing about the London underground, using its schematic maps as a metaphor, which probably seemed like a good idea but does not work well.

Production of e-portfolios and support for Recognition of Prior Learning (RPL) are eligible for funding. Also selection of customization of existing e-learning content. Organizations do not have to create whole courses from scratch.

The main aim of the next round of government funding from 2008 is-learning embedded in industry (previous phases were: 2000 Capability, 2005 Client Engagement). It therefore provides the funding to business, but who then partner with a training provider.

One issue which came up several times is copyright. The Commonwealth requires the copyright on materials created in a funded project to be transferred to it. Under the standard Australian Government copyright conditions this precludes the use of the material, without permission and payment of a fee. I asked about this and it seems that the material in this case is available for free use, but the Commonwealth does not seem to have used a standard open access license. As a result it is unlikely the material will be found and if it is will be used.

The Commonwealth should change its policy for the
Australian Flexible Learning Framework and adopt a standard license, such as Creative Commons. This would greatly increase use of the materials, as they could then be found with a web search and it would be clear they were available for use. As it is I would be reluctant to recommend participation in any of these programs. Perhaps with a new federal government it is time to suggest that the federal government adopt a policy of giving away IP, rather than restricting access and trying to make money from it.

One TAFE Industry project was highlighted. This had a few interesting points: iPods were used for delivering material. The issue of Copyright came up again, as did the availability of bandwidth for using online systems.

After afternoon tea we used "clickers" (as used in audience response). These are hand held devices with a telephone type keypad issued to each participant. The facilitator puts up a list of questions on screen and each participant presses a key to respond,. The system tallies and displays the responses as a bar graph. The units were Response Cards from Response Innovations, but there are numerous such devices available.
CSIRO has produced a free system called Votapedia, which uses mobile phones.

One issue which came up was the difficulty of finding a return on investment for small non-profit community projects that might need training. Another was the flexibility of the program: after saying capital equipment was not funded, a budget including 16 mobile phones was shown, this had been accepted as the phones were integral for the project.

I had some difficulty with the workshop exercise, as the template which was supposed to be provided online was not included in the text accessible version. I reported the problem and it should be corrected soon. But a problem remains of needing to use the text accessible version: it would be preferable if the primary version of the course was accessible so I didn't need to use a different version which needs to be separately maintained.

Some ways the programs could be applied in Canberra may involve government agencies, rather than private companies. Agencies are eligible to take part, either as the business partner or as a training organisation. This is an interesting option, as I have been involved in delivering university courses, but some of that content would also be suitable for vocational courses.

Apart from the useful content of the workshop, the way it was conducted to demonstrate some of the e-learning techniques was very useful. The use of online materials and interactive electronic class room aids was very useful. However, the problems with these also highlighted the costs and risks involved in the use of the technology. When the web site and the clicker work, they are very useful, but when they do not work, this is very disruptive to the learning process.

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