So you want to buy some learning technology. Stop right there. Step away from the “Add to shopping cart” button and take a few deep breaths. Before you start buying hardware and software, take a few minutes to think this through. You will save a lot of money, much of your sanity, and possibly your career. I hope this briefing will help. It is about common sense, not technical gobbledygook, says William Horton.
by William Horton
ABOUT THE AUTHOR William Horton is a consultant and author of E-Learning Tools and Technology, Designing Web-Based Training, and several other books on using electronic media and technologies (http://www.horton.com/).
Let’s start with some realistic expectations. Despite what you may have heard, technology does not educate people and organizations. Effective, plans, processes, and, of course, people do. All technology will do is make it faster and more efficient. If you are doing things wrong, technology will help you do more things wrong in less time. So focus first on the top priorities you really need to address; they will drive your technology requirements.
How about content: Documents, courses, job aids, and other explicit forms of captured knowledge? Getting the right information to the right person at the right time is a goal, you say? Well, you’re going to need tools to capture that knowledge in a tangible form and tools to allow users to access that information when they need it.
Start where you are. I’ll bet you’re sitting on a treasure trove of PowerPoint presentations, Microsoft Word documents, and Excel spreadsheets. And you have a staff that already knows how to use these tools. Right now, you can slug these documents on your intranet server and make sure your corporate search engine can find them.
You say not everyone has the programs to read these documents and you don’t want just everybody mucking with the original versions? Why not use Adobe Acrobat to convert them to a sharable copy? Those who need to read or print the document need only the free Adobe Acrobat reader.
Want to create some formal e-learning courses? You could get authoring tools like ToolBook or Authorware. And if you also need to make the same information available as Web pages, paper documents, online learning, sales brochures, job aids, classroom courses, and other forms, I suggest authoring the basic presentation component in PowerPoint and then using a converter to generate the various forms you need. Fro example, you can create animated presentations in PowerPoint with voice and text notes, and then converts the result to Flash for your use on your Web site and in online learning. You can convert the same presentation to Microsoft Word for use in documentation and sales brochures. As a plus you still have the PowerPoint slides for use in classroom courses and sales pitches.
Want to buy some ready-made courses? Vendors like SkillSoft, NETg, Element K, and many others offer a full array of topics to choose from. Most are SCORM compliant (I’ll get to this a little later), but be careful; to answer to questions before you buy: “Are these programs any good from a learning perspective?” and “Do these programs fit my needs?”