Affordable Elearning for Budget-Minded Organizations

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More and more managers are delivering critical information to employees, customers, and other stakeholders via computers and the web. But how do you create affordable elearning in a budget-minded organization?

In these environments, organizational strategy is often malleable and opportunity-driven. The number of would-be trainees needing to learn similar material may seem inadequate to justify the expense. And often, financial, human, and training resources are in limited supply. Each of these hurdles can make it seem impractical to invest in traditional models of learning development and delivery. Fortunately, affordable elearning is attainable if you’re willing to get creative.

“In fact, excellent, exciting, and engaging solutions exist for the creation and delivery of computer-delivered learning across all organizations, big and small.”

The Problem with Elearning Tools

Marketers of authoring tools and delivery platforms promise a seamless development and deployment process for organizations of every size and stripe. As powerful as such applications are, most require a time-consuming, resource-intensive process of elearning module development. The subsequent costs of maintaining a learning management system (LMS) to deliver the modules, can often be profitably sustained only when an organization can consistently do each of the following:

  • Embed the training within a committed and well-defined organizational strategy.
  • Train many individuals with similar and specific training needs.
  • Hire and support specialized resources to create the training (e.g., a training department).

That’s Hard. What About Us?

Big organizations have the resources to manage these criteria, but the 50 million+ small, budget-minded organizations worldwide have a harder time. Are these organizations and employees destined to be left behind in the computer-based learning revolution? We don’t think so. In fact, excellent, exciting, and engaging solutions exist for the creation and delivery of computer-delivered learning across all organizations, big and small. And that’s a good thing, because there are many instances in which affordable elearning offers solutions for significant, everyday problems faced by organizations.

When Elearning Makes Sense

In most smaller, budget-minded organizations, knowledge transfer tends to happen interpersonally and on-the-fly. An employee asks her manager or co-worker how to accomplish a task, and then receives an answer. Knowledge has been successfully transferred, which is great, and usually works just fine. There are circumstances, however, in which this one-off approach isn’t as effective, and a more formal system of learning delivery is needed. Some examples include any of the following:

  • The learning/knowledge transfer must be verifiable, either because of criticality to the organization or for compliance reasons.
  • The information being transferred is a source of frequent issues (such as training gaps, misunderstandings, or questions) and does not change significantly over time.
  • The information is important but needed infrequently enough that individuals are likely not to remember it from one use to the next.
  • The same information must be communicated consistently based on triggering events, such as new-employee orientation or volunteer on-boarding.
  • A single employee has critical knowledge that, if lost in an accident or sudden separation, could cause organizational chaos.
  • Something new must be learned by the entire organization nearly simultaneously.

In each of these circumstances, the inevitable and ongoing challenges facing organizations can be reduced when recognition of the need for training is coupled with some creative thinking about solutions. In fact, the costs associated with filling training gaps need not break the bank. With some thoughtful preparation, smart content development, and good project management, the budget-minded organization’s knowledge transfer programs can rival—and even surpass!—those of the big guys in creativity, efficiency, and effectiveness.

Using the right tools creatively makes all the difference. When it’s time to get important information out into your organization, here are some inexpensive options to consider:

Text-Based Documents: The Unsung Hero of Affordable Elearning

Let’s all take a moment now to send a mental “thank you” to the 1st and 2nd grade teachers of the world. Their tireless efforts prove that learning can be delivered simply and succinctly through the written word. Trainers can produce text-based documents in Microsoft Word or similar applications. Save these documents to PDF for cross-platform portability. Mobile devices are becoming better equipped to create and display Word files, PDFs, and other similar file types.

Here’s where technical writers can help you a lot. We see a convergence of tech writing and instructional design. Consider expanding existing writers’ responsibilities to include training development as well.

Sometimes, large blocks of content can be learned over a period of time. Break this material into short lessons. Distribute these quick-read documents to learners over a pre-determined time frame. Many email apps allow these emails to be set up in advance and mailed automatically on your schedule. This approach, referred to in the instructional design world as “chunking,” lets learners absorb information at a comfortable pace. This also avoids creating the “too long; didn’t read” (TL;DR) problem that plagues long documents attempting an all-at-once approach.

Digital Multimedia: A Growing List of Possibilities

Not so long ago, digital multimedia production was the domain of those whose native talent and interest justified buying expensive equipment and software. Today, the ability to create useful, relevant, and impactful multimedia content is as close as the smartphone we carry every day, which is great news when developing an affordable elearning program.

In contrast to the text-based approach to delivering learning, digital multimedia makes good on the notion that a “picture is worth a thousand words.” Multimedia can be used to show a process or describe a procedure that would otherwise take many pages of written description.

For example, smartphone videos can capture a specific and complicated how-to that can be deployed to a private YouTube or Vimeo channel.

Screen-capture software is available for free or low-cost. Use it to show the click-by-click directions for computer-based activities. These, too, can be uploaded to online video delivery platforms. Then, for just-in-time learning, why not place QR codes in the learner’s working environment, right where and when information will be needed? These codes can be generated and downloaded for free through link shortening tools. Users just read the QR code with a smartphone QR scanner to access the how-to video you’ve placed online.

Don’t Overlook PowerPoint

Microsoft PowerPoint is actually becoming better than it used to be. It’s an affordable elearning option capable of offering a module-type experience. If a video needs to be delivered with explanatory material, PowerPoint is a viable option. It has long been possible to export a PowerPoint document into a video file type. Now, with a free Microsoft add-in called Office Mix, the program’s capabilities have been taken in an interaction-based, elearning-like direction. Office Mix has useful features like screen capture, slide recording with audio, and write-on-the-slide “inking.”. With an Office 365 account, organizations can host the output, LMS-style, for distribution to learners using a simple link share.

LMS Tracking: Capture the Results

Of course, regardless of how the learning is delivered, there are instances in which it’s necessary to determine whether or not the knowledge transfer has actually occurred.

An LMS can be an asset here. These web-based platforms use communications protocols that record the results of elearning interactions and assessments. The LMS provides reports on this and other aspects of learner engagement. Some no-cost solutions exist. However, learning managers and learners often find these hard to use. Better LMS solutions use pricing models that are biased toward large groups of learners. The fees can be steep. Additionally, LMS management is a full-time job of its own. It can increase employee workload or require hiring additional personnel.

Achievement Tracking without an LMS

Fortunately, the industry has developed affordable elearning workarounds that feedback about a learner’s success in engaging with the material. Consider using the following simple solutions to verify training completion or to gather learning retention info:

  • Link the learner to a Google Form or SurveyMonkey quiz. Anyone who has administrative privileges can view and analyze the results across all learners. Google Forms can connect to collaborative spreadsheets (Google Sheets) for deep, streamlined aggregation.
  • Provide a printable certificate, accessible only upon completion of a program or document. Instruct the learner to print and deliver the document to a specific recipient to verify completion.
  • Add a relevant, real-world assignment to the program or document. Give clear directions about how and when the learner should complete the assignment and to whom it should be turned in.
  • Create an email-based discussion board in which learners answer subject-specific questions by using Reply All responses. This encourages peer-to-peer, or “social” learning. This approach allows adult learners to engage at a higher lever. You can also use internal social networks to inspire lively discussion.

These are just a few suggestions focusing on widely-available tools. It’s important to choose your strategy carefully. Organizations that think outside the box can repurpose customer relationship management (CRM) applications, employee portals, and mobile technology both to deliver learning and to gather learner responses easily and inexpensively.

No Need to Go It Alone

Even with all of these affordable elearning options, the tasks associated with creating and deploying computer-based learning solutions can require significant time and focus. When these assets are in short supply, ProEdit is ready to help. We can move your knowledge transfer projects forward through each phase of the training development process. From aiding with needs and gap analysis to serving as an objective “set of eyes” for a near-complete program, and for everything in between, ProEdit’s team of trainers, writers, and designers can help you deliver significant, positive knowledge transfer.

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